In an effort to promote the well-being of canines across the state, Pennsylvania has announced its first hike in dog license fees in more than 25 years.

Governor Josh Shapiro signed Senate Bill 746 into law on Monday, raising the annual dog license fee from $6.70 to $8.70 — a $2.00 increase — and the lifetime fee to $52.70, effective March 1, 2024. This fee hike will support the Department of Agriculture in enforcing the state’s dog law, covering responsibilities such as dog retrieval, disease prevention, kennel inspections, and other canine-related incidents.

Impact of increased dog license fees on Pennsylvania’s canine programs

As per Fox43, Damon March — director of operations at Humane Pennsylvania — said, “That small increase of a couple of dollars per dog license, [with] over 3 million dogs in Pennsylvania, could have a pretty big impact on the programs that the Department of Agriculture are responsible for.”

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding — in an official statement — emphasized that Pennsylvanians have voiced their desire for kennels, breeders, and shelters to adhere to rigorous standards. “They want their communities to be safe from stray and dangerous dogs. They want owners to be held responsible when their dog attacks, and they want unscrupulous breeders to be shut down,” he said. Continuing further, he notes, “The Shapiro Administration, working with both parties in the legislature, has made commonsense changes to the dog law to keep our communities, our families, and our dogs safe and healthy.”

This increase in fees follows a concerning trend of dog wardens closing their operations throughout Pennsylvania. Not only that, but the state has also ranked among the worst in terms of problematic puppy breeders on the Humane Society of the United States‘ (HSUS) 2023 Horrible Hundred Report.

“You need that dog law bureau and the local dog ordinance to have enough money to hire the right people, and to have enough people on staff to inspect those kennels,” said Kathleen Summers. She is the director of outreach and research for the HSUS campaign to end puppy mills. According to her, “Unless they have enough time and money to inspect them they’re not able to document what they need to do to get them shut down.”

Key measures in the updated dog law

The revised dog law introduces several other important measures. These include:

  • All dog owners must now license their dogs either at the time of purchase (legal at eight weeks) or before the age of three months — whichever occurs first.
  • Sellers, or those offering pups for adoption, must provide a dog license application alongside the dog.
  • The annual dog license fee will increase to $8.70 on March 1, 2024 — for all dogs.
  • Lifetime licenses purchased between December 1, 2023, and March 1, 2024, will be available at the previous rates of $31.70 for neutered animals and $51.70 for others.
  • The law grants the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to raise fees by $2 on December 1, 2025, and by an additional $1 on December 1, 2027.
  • Penalties for unlicensed dogs will vary from $100 to $500 — in addition to court expenses.
  • The dog law has raised criminal penalties for all other violations, with summary offenses now ranging from $500 to $1,000, and misdemeanor offenses from $1,000 to $5,000 — in addition to court costs.
  • The yearly fee for housing a “dangerous dog” will rise from $500 to $1,000 if a dog is classified as dangerous after 90 days.
  • Kennels and shelters advertising dogs for sale or adoption must incorporate their kennel license number into their ads.
  • Kennels selling or adopting dogs to the public must disclose breeder details, vaccination records, medical documentation, and any reported bite incidents involving humans or domestic animals.
  • Dogs imported into Pennsylvania kennels must undergo a mandatory isolation period of a minimum of 14 days.

Pennsylvania’s dog license fee lower than neighboring states

Despite the hike, Pennsylvania’s updated dog license fee remains lower than those in nearby states — such as New Jersey at $21, New York at $16, and Maryland at $12.

March stated, “It [was] a long time coming. The neighboring states’ dog license fees are much higher than they have been in Pennsylvania. Even higher than what the increased prices will be.”

The HSUS emphasizes that this modest fee increase offers benefits not only to the Commonwealth but also to dogs and their owners.

“It’s such a valuable benefit to the community, again you know even to contain potential disease outbreaks, potential dangerous animals,” Summers stated. “It’s really a win-win for everybody and I think most people will agree that it’s worth the modest cost.”

The Pennsylvania legislature passed this updated law earlier this year with bipartisan support.

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