courts of law and public opinion?
Main Line Animal Rescue founder Bill Smith on October 7, 2009 bet that it will, relying on jet speed to gather evidence that he hopes will finish the image of Pennsylvania puppy millers as plain, simple people who are just out of step with modern times. Amish dog breeders in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and upstate New York have come to dominate the dog breeding industry in the northeastern U.S. during the past 20 years.
The Amish reputation for producing quality handcrafted furniture, growing pesticide-free fruit and vegetables, and managing farms that look like those of a century ago has helped the dog breeders--but traditional commercial dog-breeding practices were unacceptable to the humane community even
120 years ago, and are much less so in light of vastly increased knowledge about what dogs need to become happy, healthy, well-behaved pets.
When Smith learned that nearly 400 dogs from breeders in heavily Amish Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, had been trucked to an Ohio auction, recounted Philadelphia Inquirer starf writer Amy
Worden, "he saw it as a chance to call attention to animal abuse in Pennsylvania. But because the dogs had crossed state lines, time was working against efforts to file cruelty charges. So Smith
rounded up a private jet and flew to the Farmerstown Sale Barn in Baltic, a village in eastern Ohio."
Smith took along a team of Pennsylvania SPCA agents and veterinarians. Veterinarian Cari Thomson identified Lancaster County dogs whose condition indicated that their breeders were in violation
of Pennsylvania law--the old law, not the much stricter version adopted in 2008 that came into full effect two days later.
The team bought 12 of the dogs.
"After the purchases, the group got back on the jet for the 45-minute flight back to the Chester County Airport with the dogs," Worden wrote. "They were whisked to the Pennsylvania SPCA
headquarters in Philadelphia, where the animals were examined and documented--all within two hours of leaving Ohio. "We got the evidence in another state and we had to establish that the animals were in this condition at the time the people being charged were in possession of them," explained attorney Scott Withers.
The Pennsylvania SPCA "prepared charges against six of the 12 Lancaster County breeders who sent dogs to the auction," wrote Worden. "Pennsylvania kennel owners ship unwanted breeding dogs to
Ohio to be sold, usually to other breeders, because auctions are illegal in the commonwealth," Worden explained.
Smith believes that Pennsylvania breeders were using the Baltic auction to dump dogs before the new state law could be enforced. The new law allows dogs more kennel space and exercise
opportunities, and requires that they receive regular veterinary care.
"Of the 134 commercial dog kennels licensed by the state in Lancaster County at the beginning of 2009," wrote Lancaster Sunday News associate editor Gil Smart, "14 have closed and another 33 plan
to close by the end of the year--a full 35% of the total."
Since the beginning of 2007 the state has revoked or refused 15 kennel licenses in Lancaster County, said Jessie L. Smith, special deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. But Lancaster County still has almost a third of the 294 licensed breeding kennels in Pennsylvania. Statewide, 184 dog breeders have asked for waivers of enforcement of the new dog law, to give them additional time to bring their facilities into compliance.
Two of the most notorious convicted puppy millers in Pennsylvania may be running out of wiggle room to stay in business--but not for lack of trying.
Derbe ''Skip'' Eckhart, of Upper Milford Township, on November 16, 2009 withdrew the guilty pleas he had entered on September 22 to multiple charges filed after state officials seized 216 dogs from his Almost Heaven kennels on June 23. Eckhart, 42, was "handcuffed and taken to prison under $25,000 bail to await trial on animal cruelty and dog law charges, many of which had been dropped in the previous plea deal," wrote Patrick Lester of the Allentown Morning Call.
Eckhart "has long been notorious in animal protection circles because of a 20-year history of cruelty charges and other offenses," summarized Daniel Patrick Sheehan of the Allentown Morning Call after
one of his previous conflicts with the law in 2008. Judge Robert L. Steinberg imposed the high bail, he said, because Eckhart had "'thumbed his nose at the judicial system," reported Lester.
In October 2009 the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement revoked the kennel license of Lancaster County dog breeders Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus, whose license had already been
suspended for six months by court order. The Stoltzfuses appealed the revocation. Their kennel, CC Pets, "sold more than 1,800 puppies last year," reported Worden of the Inquirer, "putting it among the state's highest-volume dog sellers. The kennel, once known as Puppy Love, has been the subject of investigations and consumer fraud lawsuits for at least 20 years." Added Lancaster Intelligencer Journal staff writer Janet Kelley, "The recent ruling stemmed from a 2005 lawsuit against the
Stoltzfuses under the state's "puppy lemon law" for selling sick dogs to more than 171 customers. The lawsuit ended in the largest-ever consumer-fraud settlement in Pennsylvania. The Stoltzfuses paid a
$75,000 fine and agreed to conditions set by state Attorney General Tom Corbett. One of those conditions was that the kennel's advertisements clearly state the kennel's name. In April, Corbett
charged the kennel owners with violating that agreement after learning that CC Pets had been running ads--more than 800 of them--without including the name of the kennel."
The Stoltzfuses were fined $16,000.
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