If state senators pass the proposed dog law reforms as the House of Representatives did, Clover Creek Kennels in Williamsburg won't pass its state inspection.
The reforms double the minimum floor space for dogs, eliminate wire flooring and require access to an outdoor exercise area twice the size of the dog's primary enclosure, among other requirements. The dogs at Clover Creek - all small breeds, none bigger than a cocker spaniel - are kept in pens about 3 1/2 feet off the ground, with PVC-coated wire flooring sold under the brand name Tenderfoot. The animals get their exercise in indoor runs.
Under the reforms, dogs couldn't be kept more than 30 inches off the ground. Kennel owner Reuben Newswanger said if he lowers his cages, the dogs will be in the way of his building's ventilation system - which blows under the current cages - and at risk for developing respiratory problems.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Two of the dogs at Clover Creek Kennel in Williamsburg are shown in their cages Sept. 25. Below, Carolyn Newswanger, 5, watches a puppy in one of the kennel’s indoor runs.
"If it passes as the House passed it, it'll mean the end of our business," Newswanger said of the reforms. "Some of these regulations are impossible for us."
There are more than 100 dogs at Clover Creek Kennels, and the business sells a couple hundred puppies per year.
Three years ago, Newswanger invested more than $100,000 in his kennel to build a new building. The kennel has passed three inspections a year since then.
Boarding and private kennels and pet stores will need to have fire extinguishers and have a general exercise plan for the facility that has been approved by a veterinarian.
Dog rescues without a physical kennel who instead house dogs in foster homes will need an appropriate kennel license. The organization will need to keep records of what dogs came and went from foster care.
Commercial breeding kennels (kennels that breed or whelp dogs and sell or transfers any dog to a dealer or pet-shop kennel or sells or transfers more than 60 dogs per calendar year) will face the most changes under House Bill 2525. The bill seeks to double the minimum primary enclosure square footage space requirements for dogs, provide outdoor exercise runs, require solid flooring, prohibit the stacking of cages and require regular veterinary check-ups for dogs.
"As the legislation is currently drafted, commercial kennels would have a year to come into compliance," said Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for Dog Law Enforcement at the state Department of Agriculture. "And they'd also have the ability to ask for a waiver of a certain aspect of the law."
In 2006, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed changes to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, which was last updated in 1996.
''The proposed regulations were regulations that would have applied to all licensed kennels in the state - any kennel more than 25 dogs for whatever purpose, '' Smith said.
Under the new legislation, Smith said, a commercial kennel is one that breeds dogs, sells them to dealers or pet stores or sells or transfers more than 60 dogs a year.
If the law does pass, Smith said, a canine health board of veterinarians and animal care experts will be established to fill in the specifics of a few areas in the legislation - flooring, temperature, humidity, ammonia, lighting ranges. Newswanger's Ten-derfoot flooring, she said, may be permissible.
Outdoor exercise areas, though, won't be up for discussion - they're required unless local zoning laws prohibit them.
"We're not trying to drive commercial breeders out of business," Smith said. "We're trying to get them to put money back into their business and their dogs. If they're (breeding) dogs, they're spending their life in cages and making a lot of money for the kennel owner."
On Sept. 16, the House of Represen-tatives passed the legislation. State Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair) issued a statement that said he was ''disappointed'' with the bill.
On Sept. 24, the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee approved several amendments to the bill, including the creation of the canine health board and giving kennels one year to comply with the new standards. The committee approved the bill with a vote of 10-1, with committe member Sen. John Eichelber-ger (R-Blair) casting the only no vote.
Eichelberger said he agrees with the amendments but still objects to the bill.
"I think there's an attempt from the administration to shut down these commercial kennels in Pennsylvan-ia," Eichelberger said. "Bob Bastian, the state rep from Bedford and Somer-set counties, said it best - that we're sacrificing sensible regulation for extreme policy."
Not all kennel owners, however, will see the impact Newswanger may if the legislation passes. Denise Barnes has close to 200 dogs - Lab-rador retrievers and shih tzus - at Barnes Puppy Love Kennels in Roaring Spring. She said she's already in compliance with most of the new regulations.
Debbie and Tom Dishong of Commodore, Indiana County, have three commercial kennels in Altoona, Johnstown and Irwin, in addition to the one at their home.
"We don't have to do anything yet," Debbie Dishong said. "But if they pass one law, the scary part is that they could always pass more."
Eichelberger said the bill is on the Senate calendar for this week, with a vote likely today or Tuesday. He said he expects it to pass.