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Breeders dogged by Pennsylvania's new laws

| Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010

A Westmoreland County commercial dog breeder said the state's new regulation cracking down on dog breeders have cost her thousands of dollars in renovation bills and might force her to close her kennel.

Shirley McClarran, who operates Dogs of Donohoe in Unity, said other kennels are struggling to comply with the law.

"They're crushing a lot of good people," said McClarran, who is awaiting a follow-up inspection after making changes to her facility.

Lawmakers enacted the changes, which took effect Oct. 9, in an attempt to end Pennsylvania's reputation as the "puppy mill capital of the East" by cracking down on poor conditions in large commercial kennels. Two years ago, the state had about 650 commercial breeding kennels, many of them on Amish farms, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The number of commercial kennels in the state has dropped by 41 percent -- from 303 in 2009 to 178 this year, according to the Agriculture Department's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, and most have shut their doors because of the new regulations.

Four of those were in Southwestern Pennsylvania: two in Indiana County and two in Somerset. The highest number was in Lancaster County, where 47 commercial kennels have closed or are scheduled for closure.

The law sets up new classifications for kennels, such as commercial, boarding, dealer and nonprofit.

Most of the businesses affected by the changes are those listed as "class C," or commercial kennels -- those that keep dogs for years solely to breed them and sell them to dealers or pet stores, or sell more than 60 a year. The new laws set minimum standards for cage size, makes provisions for exercise areas, bans wire-cage flooring and limits the stacking of cages.

Last year, McClarran's kennel was listed as housing 250 to 500 dogs, making her one of the largest dog breeders in Westmoreland County, according to state records.

Agriculture Department spokesman Justin Fleming said the intent of the law was "to eliminate commercial breeding kennels that put profits before the welfare of the dog."

"Our goal wasn't to put people out of business," he said. "We wanted to raise the bar. We didn't want to put good kennels out of business."

Fleming said the law focused on large kennels because most of the problems involved them.

State Rep. James Casorio, D-North Huntingdon, a primary sponsor of the legislation, said operators of puppy mills, which he described as large "agribusinesses," often fail to give the dogs water or food, repeatedly breed them, and in some cases cut puppies from a dog's womb.

"(The law) was to eliminate this scourge," he said. "This is basic humane treatment of man's best friend."

But McClarran said the law has set up kennel classifications that allow some operators to breed dogs without inspections and forces unethical breeders to move dogs to numerous sites to get under the 26-dog housing number that triggers state inspections twice yearly.

"I think they're wrong, grouping them the way they did," McClarran said. "What's good for this group of dogs should be good for that group of dogs."

Dog bureau inspection records show McClarran passed two state inspections last year -- before the law changed -- with no negative scores or remarks.

Three other kennels in Westmoreland County are listed as commercial in dog bureau records, all housing more than 101 dogs last year. Most kennels in the region housed fewer than 100 dogs last year, according to state records.

Gloria Shank, owner of Glosrun Kennels in Salem, said enforcement needs to be concentrated on kennels that operate without a license, so-called "backyard breeders."

"They're the ones that give the people who are legal a bad reputation," Shank said. Her facility housed between 151 and 250 dogs last year and passed two inspections with no negative scores or remarks, according to state records.

Fleming said dog officers visit unlicensed kennels when they hear about them.

"That certainly goes on," Fleming said. "Our wardens and the bureau are always looking out for kennels that are operating illegally."

Rusty Cromer, owner of Meryln Kennels in Robinson, which had 50 or fewer dogs last year, said she likes the changes the law has brought. But she conceded the regulations could increase costs for breeders, especially large ones.

"If they're not up to regulations, they have to upgrade. That's the bottom line for the small, medium or large (kennels)," she said.

Several other kennel operators declined interviews.

McClarran said two inspectors visited her business in October and told her what she needed to do to meet the new requirements. One change meant spending $10,000 for a new kennel, she said. A report on that October visit wasn't available from the state, and McClarran was awaiting a follow-up inspection after she made changes.

"It's thousands of dollars," McClarran said. "As I said, actually, it's stuff that passed all these years and was fine. And now you have to do this."

Fleming said those inspections were in the past, and breeders need to follow the new regulations.

Inspectors are now out in the field making sure the breeders who last year said they were closing because of new requirements did so, Fleming said.

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