Dog lovers are prepping for a fight this fall to pass their pet bill -- a new state dog law aimed at cleaning up commercial breeding kennels known as "puppy mills."
Animal-rights advocates were unhappy last month when the bill, sponsored by Rep. James Casorio, D-Westmoreland, languished at the Legislature's summer break. Now they're seething over the recent shooting of 80 dogs at two Berks County kennels whose owners didn't want to pay for their medical care.
House members return to session Sept. 15, and they are under increased pressure to move Casorio's bill. If it doesn't pass before the 2007-08 term ends in November, it will have to be reintroduced in the next term that begins in January.
Nancy Gardner of Chambersburg, a member of Gov. Ed Rendell's Dog Law Advisory Board, said it's legal under the current law for kennel operators to shoot dogs, but Casorio's wide-ranging bill would have prevented it. Among other things,
his bill would allow only veterinarians to euthanize dogs.
"I hope they get it passed because what happened a couple of weeks ago (in Berks County) was an atrocity," Gardner said.
Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-West Manchester, a co-sponsor of Casorio's bill, said the shooting of the dogs "highlights why the bill is needed more than anything I could say."
Casorio's bill would also double the minimum floor space for dogs at kennels and require solid flooring rather than the wire floors in which a dog's feet can get stuck.
The bill has high-profile backers such as Oprah Winfrey, who aired hidden-camera footage early this year of the bad conditions at several large breeders in Lancaster and Berks counties, and Rendell, who has a 3-year-old golden retriever that was saved from a puppy mill.
Yet the bill went nowhere when lawmakers were scrambling to finish the 2008-09 state budget before their summer break began in July. It was bogged down by about 40 amendments from lawmakers who want a range of changes. Now, about 100 amendments are awaiting the bill on the House floor, making its fate uncertain this fall.
Rep. Art Hershey, R-Chester, the ranking Republican on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, is leading the charge to strap amendments to the bill. He has drafted about 40 amendments but did not return a message seeking comment for this story.
While animal-rights groups say the amendments are an attempt to filibuster the bill, some lawmakers say the 92-page bill needs to be amended because certain statewide groups make solid arguments for changes. Those groups include the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
The veterinary association opposes the provision to require solid flooring, saying that would mean some dogs would sit in their urine or feces. Instead, the group wants language to mandate a grid of material to allow for drainage, with slots small enough so dogs' feet won't get stuck.
While the veterinary association supports a requirement for exercise, it opposes an outdoor exercise area because of extreme temperatures at certain times.
The farm bureau opposes language to require regular rabies vaccines by veterinarians, saying kennel operators should be allowed to administer them because of a shortage of veterinarians. It also opposes the provision to double the minimum cage size, saying would be more than federal law.
Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, said he backs the general intent of Casorio's bill but wants to be sure lawmakers take the time to write a good and complete bill.
Tom Andrews, spokesman for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, said House leaders from both parties are working together to narrow the list of amendments to make a floor vote possible this fall.
With a slew of amendments waiting to be considered, some lawmakers say it's hard to take a stance now.
Rep. Steven Nickol, R-Hanover, said it's hard for him to sort through all the amendments because he doesn't sit on any committee with say over the issue.
"I'm more than willing to look at the bill and the issue, but I'm overwhelmed, frankly, by the fact that there are so many amendments," he said.
AT A GLANCE
Last time: The bill to rewrite the state's dog law languished when lawmakers recessed in July.
What's next: There will be another effort to pass the bill when the House reconvenes Sept. 15.
The Rendell administration has posted more information on the bill at www.DogLawAction.com.