Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: THREE INSPECTORS COVER 104,100 SQUARE MILES

Pet facility regulation has gone to the dogs

For Colorado pet owners, “Pets are like family,” notes the Department of Regulatory Agencies in its Sunset review of the Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act.

And yet, the review found, the care of pets in Colorado facilities is not adequately regulated.

DORA’s 2008 review of PACFA, which is implemented by Colorado’s Department of Agriculture, revealed a very good law. Unfortunately, however, it also found a law enforced by an inadequate number of inspectors who must rely on a desperately inefficient backup system.

The review suggests that — unless the state digs deeper into the licensing fees paid to PACFA by some 2,000 Colorado pet groomers, rescuers, shelters, breeders and retailers — that system easily could be overwhelmed.

DORA reports “the pet industry is very stable and largely unaffected by downturns in the economy ... continued industry growth at approximately five percent ... (is) expected ... (and) pet owners will pay for services at an increasing level.”

PACFA is funded by license fees. Because the industry is flourishing, the revenue created by those fees might be expected to be increasing. However, because Colorado law restricts revenue and spending, fees were lowered in 2008. Projections show that, without a change in spending authority, they may be lowered again soon.

DORA recommended continuing the PACFA program, and also suggested a boost to its spending authority.

The review states:

“Protecting Colorado’s multimillion-dollar pet industry from bad actors benefits the state’s economy generally and its citizens tangentially.

“Since the regulated community and the general public want to see more inspections and increased action, it seems illogical to continually lower fees, rather than using resources to upgrade technology. This is particularly so, since there appears to be ... correlation between lowered fees and LESS public protection.”

There are, at present, only three inspectors following up complaints. The state is divided into three sectors over Colorado’s 104,100 square miles. PACFA performs an average of more than 800 annual inspections, which turn up more than 1,000 violations each year.

According to the DORA review, “ ... even if there was another inspector on staff, the current disorganized record system would not handle the increase in inspections and actions without expotentially increasing the record keeping/technology problems.”

In other words, spending more on pet protection would be better, politically acceptable, and even desirable for Colorado licensees and pet owners, provided that money is first spent on bringing the staff backup system into the 21st century.

DORA surveyed 227 licensees in June. Here are the results:

PACFA has raised the standards: 140 agree, 36 disagree.

PACFA inspections are necessary: 180 agree, 13 disagree.

PACFA inspectors are effective in explaining expectations: 143 agree, 25 disagree.

DORA found the present backup system to be a mess, reporting that all information is kept at “a separate entry into an electronic filing cabinet.” (This “system” is a legacy of the previous administration, but it is now on the shoulders of the present governor.)

The review suggests consolidating PACFA’s many separate databases into one integrated system — a goal, the report notes, that could be achieved without breaking the state’s hiring freeze.

In DORA’s words:

“The information recording methods are an inefficient use of time, space and labor. The licensee hard copy files are too large, unorganized and cumbersome to be useful to the staff, or any person who wishes to examine them. PACFA ... is in desperate need of a technology overhaul.”

Another important issue is the lack of unimpeded access to all properties and records pertaining to PACFA.

CRS 38-80-110 (3) states:

“At any reasonable time during regular business hours, the commissioner (of agriculture) shall have free and unimpeded access upon consent or upon obtaining an administrative search warrant ... to facilities and records.”

Yet, according to DORA, “The majority of licensed facilities care for pet animals 24 hours per day seven days per week. Considering that animals could possibly be in danger at any time they are in a non-compliant facility, what, or who, determines what a reasonable time is to inspect a facility?

“Therefore, staff must have unlimited access to fulfill its mission — keeping pet animals safe. If a licensee chooses to operate a home-based facility, it must be subject to the same regulatory oversight as those businesses that operate in other conditions.

“... the commissioner should have the authority to scrutinize any property or records of a licensee at any time.

“This Sunset review contains recommendations for systemic upgrades that, if adopted by the General Assembly and implemented by staff, will increase efficiency and accountability measures (and we) ... recommend the next Sunset review ... take place in five years to more quickly measure the impact of the changes.”

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The smartest columnist in the metropolitan area is no longer at the Denver Post. That is not a slap at the other working columnists. It’s just that, in my book, Bob Ewegen rated at the top.

Ewegen has been the long-distance runner in Colorado journalism, covering decades of good and bad history, politics and legislation. Who is left on a weekly basis to ask about what happened in the early ’90s? Certainly no one on the present list of Post editorial staff.

You could not read a Bob Ewegen column without coming away with a treasure of information you might otherwise never have known. My legislative files are replete with Ewegen columns tracing the state’s economy, its water issues, and the people who succeeded or failed.

I never read a bad Ewegen column. Yes, some were dry and made you read them several times, but the insights were always worth the effort.

Serious readers of the Post are the losers, especially those with the ability to affect our future history.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House and was chief sponsor of the Sunset law.