Harrisburg – There was some disagreement about exactly what
Pennsylvania Game Commissioners did at their two-day meeting in
early October to influence the debate about new dog regulations
proposed by the state Department of Agriculture – but it seems like
it might have been significant.
In public testimony during the first day, commissioners heard
from several hunting dog breeders who said the proposed new
regulations would put them out of business. They pleaded with
commissioners to try to influence Department of Agriculture
officials to ease up on rules they said were wrongheaded and
unnecessarily burdensome for small breeders.
“We all want to see the elimination of puppy mills,”
said one woman who breeds beagles. “But these new
regulations are unfair. If enacted, we will no longer be able to
raise hunting dogs.”
Rob Sexton, director of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, a group
that lobbies for hunting causes nationally and provides legal
support to hunting cases across the country, came from his office
in Columbus, Ohio, to talk to the commissioners about the
controversial dog regulations. He claimed that the proposed
regulations would devastate hunting dog breeders.
“We would like to see the Game Commission express some
opposition to the proposed dog regulations,” Sexton said.
“We believe the commissioners should have some role.”
Several commissioners ac-knowledged they were troubled by the
situation and had heard hundreds of complaints from sportsmen. They
vowed to investigate how the agency might shape the debate
surrounding the proposed regulations and sporting dogs.
“There’s no doubt that a number of board members are
concerned about this,” said Commissioner Russ Schleiden, of Centre
County. “We’ll see what we can do.”
He got the chance the next day.
Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement
at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, was a last-minute
addition to the commissioners’ meeting agenda, presumably to
respond to dog breeders’ testimony. Before she was done speaking,
at Schleiden’s request, she agreed to allow Game Commission staff
to review the proposed regulations to be sure hunting dog breeders
were being treated fairly.
An example of what has hunting dog breeders up in arms is that,
as originally written, hunting would not count toward strict
exercise requirements for dogs. And a pack of hunting dogs,
temporarily caged away from their home for a hunt, could not be
Smith, who pointed out that her department had received 16,000
public comments on the proposed dog regulations, noted that a
public hearing is being planned for early in 2008 at a huge venue
such as the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. She said
she expected revised regulations, reflecting concerns expressed by
hunting dog breeders, to be out by year’s end.
“We hope you will keep an open mind on this because we
are at the beginning of a complex regulatory complex,” she told
commissioners, adding that her department had just “got it
wrong on the exercise” requirements as they related to hunting
dogs, and their “intentions had been misinterpreted.”
Commissioners seemed re-lieved to hear that. “Truly,
the relationship between hunters and their dogs is storied,” said
Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie, pausing to tell a brief story about
his hunting dog and recommending several books written by Gene Hill
about the bond between hunting dogs and their owners to Smith.
“I would just urge you to be sensitive to that.”
Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, pointed out that
“most of us in the sporting dog community take care of our
dogs like they are a member of our family.”
“Sporting dog owners felt their voice wasn’t getting
through (to the department of Agriculture),” he said.
“A lot of good honest people were here and testified
about the effect on them if the proposed dog law regulations are
passed,” Commissioner Greg Isabella, of Philadelphia, told Smith.
“I would just ask your department to step backward and go
In a press conference after the meeting, commissioners
downplayed their involvement in the dog regulations issue.
“I wouldn’t say ‘we stepped in’ – I don’t think that is
the right wording,” said President Commissioner Tom Boop, of Union
“But I feel we have an obligation to offer sportsmen’s
opinions and relate their thoughts,” said Commissioner Delaney.
“We’re their supporters and we’re their advocates,”
agreed Commissioner Hill.