HARRISBURG - With a mouse click, consumers now can check out whether a kennel, animal shelter, pet shop or boarding facility passes muster in Pennsylvania, the first state to post its inspection reports on the Internet.
The state Department of Agriculture yesterday began posting the reports for 2,600 businesses with kennel licenses, ranging from small boarding operations to commercial breeding kennels housing hundreds of dogs.
Gov. Rendell, in a statement, said the instant access to kennel information would help consumers know the conditions of a kennel where they might purchase a dog. Animal-welfare advocates said it would allow them to better monitor kennel operations in a state that is known as "the puppy-mill capital of the East."
"It's extremely valuable," said Bob Baker, a St. Louis-based investigator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). He helped draft Pennsylvania's dog law in the early 1980s. "Hopefully, this encourages transparency in other states so watchdog groups like ASCPA can monitor inspections."
Posting the inspection reports online is the latest initiative by Rendell to improve conditions in kennels throughout Pennsylvania. In addition, he has added staff to the Bureau of Dog Law, stepped up enforcement, and proposed sweeping changes to the regulations that govern kennel operations.
Shelter operators said they were pleased with the new level of accessibility.
"It's a valuable thing," said Anne Irwin, executive director of the Bucks County SPCA and legislative chairwoman for the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania. "It lets people know the results of inspections and it's another incentive for kennels to do better and for wardens to do better."
Under state law, all licensed kennels that hold more than 26 dogs a year are required to be inspected by state dog wardens at least once a year. Additional inspections are made if there are complaints or if kennels fail to meet standards of cleanliness or maintenance.
Dog wardens this year began carrying tablet PCs that allow them to issue reports and post to the Web site immediately.
Critics of the existing dog regulations say that they focus only on the conditions of kennels, not the dogs, and that wardens do not have the ability to cite for health violations or cruelty.
Animal-welfare advocates warn that, as a result, inspection reports do not provide any indication of the health of the animals. They urge consumers to conduct additional research before deciding to buy a pet from a particular breeder.
"The warning is, don't rely on inspection reports alone. Go out and see the kennel. See the parents of the dog you are interested in," said Baker. "A lot of substandard kennels clean themselves up and pass inspection and still sell sick dogs."
Rendell proposed changes to the state's kennel regulations - including larger cage sizes, exercise requirements, and dog health monitoring - as a way to address ongoing problems in the state's large number of commercial breeding kennels.
These kennels, most in Lancaster County, produce thousands of puppies each year to supply pet shops throughout the Northeast. Breeding dogs often spend their lives in cramped cages with little socialization.
The proposals drew record numbers of public comments.
The state Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is in the process of reviewing 16,000 comments, the majority of them supportive, said Jessie Smith, who was appointed to the bureau's new post of special deputy secretary by Rendell last year.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission issued a critical report last month, saying the regulations lacked clarity and would be too costly to implement.
Some supporters, though, want to see tougher regulations including banning the practices of stacking cages and using wire mesh flooring.
Smith said she plans to issue revised regulations late this year or early next year.
To access the dog kennel inspection records, go to http://go.philly.com/kennel