Animal welfare activists in Pennsylvania are disturbed, if not alarmed, over the replacement of Jessie Smith as head of the state’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. Smith held the post for five years. Appointed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, it was her job to implement the groundbreaking 2008 law that cracked down on large-volume puppy mills by requiring larger cage sizes, outdoor exercise and veterinary examinations. Since the law’s enactment the number of Pennsylvania kennels selling 60 or more dogs a year has fallen by nearly 80 percent, from 300-plus to just 74, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Amy Worden.
Now Rendell is out of office and his successor, Gov. Tom Corbett, has appointed Lynn Diehl, a former bank manager, to run the Office of Dog Law Enforcement. Diehl has lots of experience when it comes to financial loans, but none in the area of kennel-enforcement. She does have a dog, a dachshund named Lilly.
Smith, meanwhile, has been reassigned to the governor’s Office of General Counsel.
It’s too bad Smith is no longer running the Dog Law Bureau. She came under fire from activists like Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, who apparently thought the brutal world of puppy mills should and could be cleaned up overnight. As a former newspaper reporter who covered state legislatures in Tennessee and New York, as well as the U.S. Congress, I can assure you that change of that magnitude doesn’t happen on a dime. (What’s more, people who see the world with such black-and-white starkness often hinder the cause.) I tracked Jessie Smith’s progress while researching Saving Gracie, which is set in Pennsylvania, and thought she deserved more credit than she got.
Now that she’s gone, people are even more upset at the inexperience of her successor. A spokeswoman for Corbett insists he has no intention of dropping the ball on the behalf of breeding dogs, however. (The state still has 2,400 dog kennels that aren’t required to abide by the new law.) Corbett was the state attorney general when the new law took effect and he prosecuted some of the most egregious puppy mill cases. Some say he had to be nudged to do so. Either way, he has more than a passing understanding of the law.
I don’t blame activists for their vigilance, because breeders have never liked the new law and continue to clamor for it to be watered down. But as my father likes to say, if you want to get to the honey, don’t knock over the beehive. Give Diehl a chance. Offering to work with her is likely to accomplish more than labeling her an enemy before she’s even had a chance to put her name on the door.