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Tag: dog law

Popping in on some Amish pups

I was on my way to see an Amish man about a dog.

Not because I want another dog — Ace is more than enough, especially during our current nomadic phase — but because I wanted a first-hand glimpse of what an Amish-run breeding operation is like.

I’ve always been puzzled by the disparity — that a seemingly peaceful and simple people could be breeding and raising dogs under conditions as horrendous as those that have been described in recent years.  The most recent horror came out of an Amish puppy farm in New York, where a breeder, rather than have his dogs treated for possible brucellosis, killed them all using a hose-and-tailpipe home-made gas chamber.

In Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, for more than a decade, reports have surfaced of despicable conditions at Amish puppy mills, and while Pennsylvania has begun to crack down on the larger scale operations, plenty of smaller ones remain.

Passing through Pennsylvania Dutch Country, I placed a phone call to Pine Tree Kennels, which I knew to be an Amish owned kennel and which was advertising “American Bulldogs” on the internet. I left a message that I was in the area and would like to see his pups.

Minutes later, my call was returned by kennel owner David Fisher and, even though he wasn’t home, arrangements were made for me to drop by his farm, where his children would show me the pups.

He said that if I saw one I liked, I could pay and take the pup with me, and he’d send me the paperwork later. “Do you have the money now?” he asked. The bulldogs pups were listed at $875, though there were two runts he was willing to let go for $650. “I don’t think that they are sick, it’s just that sometimes you get runts.”

Asked what the paperwork consisted of, he said it was the pups’ registration with the National Kennel Club — an outfit some critics describe as a paper mill for puppy mill dogs. Breeders not willing to abide by the more stringent rules and guidelines of the American Kennel Club, often register their dogs with the NKC instead.

A honking horn brought Fishers children out of their farmhouse — or at least half of the nine he has, and they showed me both the bulldogs and another litter of blue heeler-border collie mixes that they retrieved from a building obscured behind trees and bushes.

They seemed happy to show off the dogs (and to have their own pictures taken well), lifting the pups up two at a time and carrying them from their enclosures. Both pups and kids were adorable — and Fisher’s operation, at least that part of it that’s visible from the road, didn’t seem too horrendous at all.

Then again, it’s not, from all appearances, what it used to be.

Fisher’s operation outside of Lykens, in Dauphin County, was once larger scale, and state inspections reports reveal repeated violations — things like feces not cleaned up, rough and sharp edges and, perhaps most disturbing, worming syringes being used as chew toys. 

n 2009 Fisher pleaded guilty to 14 counts of dog law violations in 2009 (three of which were later withdrawn), including failure to keep kennel in a “sanitary and humane” condition, refusal of entry and selling underage puppies. In Feb. 2010 he was sentenced to six months probation for refusal entry to an inspector, selling underage puppies and failure to mantain a sanitary kennel.

On my weekend visit, Fisher’s scaled down operation seemed cleaner and more organized than the inspection reports of recent years portrayed it.

I checked out the bulldogs as their mama paced back and forth inside an enclosure — and I did like the solid white runt the best. When I asked Fisher’s young son which dog was the best he picked up the white puppy. ”You mean the nicest? This one.”

In an adjoining pen a blue heeler — who the children said lost one her legs in a mowing accident — barked, while another one, the mother of the hybrid pups, sat stationed atop a dog house.

Her puppies were kept in a shack all but hidden from view, and when I asked to see them, all the children ran back there, each returning with one or two in the crooks of their arms.

It was a bucolic scene, with beautiful kids and beautiful pups — and one that belied the increasing mound of evidence shedding a bad light on Amish breeders.

I got a chance during my visit to talk to Amy Worden, who writes the “Philly Dawg” blog for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is probably the best place to keep up with the latest news and developments pertaining to puppy mills in Pennsylvania.

As she explained it, the state is introducing the law in stages, and granting waivers that allow some larger scale operations to keep running. Overall though, in the past few years, the number of puppy mills has dropped from 300 to around 100.

Worden thinks that, in addition to those who have gotten out of the business or moved, other Amish breeders have scaled down to avoid the regulations. The new law has its gray areas, she said, but it goes along way to ensure that huge puppy mills will become history in Pennsylvania. “Clearly, nobody’s going to have 800 dogs or more, as was case in the past.”

Worden said the Amish were persuaded to start breeding dogs by outsiders, who pushed the concept as a way the farming families could make some supplemental income — important when one has a family as large as Fisher’s.

Critics say — and it’s probably a generalization — that the Amish view dogs as livestock, but watching Fisher’s children with the dogs, though they did sling them around pretty casually, there seemed to be genuine affection.

With fewer than 25 dogs on hand, Fisher is not subject to the regulations contained in Pennyslvania’s new dog law, which was passed in 2008, though many of its provisions have yet to kick in.

Other than that, the only solid conclusion I reached is that the Amish can be pretty persistent salesmen — at least Fisher is.

He called me before we had gotten a mile away from his farm, and has called me 15 times since.

Trial for ex-owner of Almost Heaven begins

Testimony began yesterday in the trial for Derbe “Skip” Eckhart, accused of animal cruelty and dog law violations at the kennel he operated in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

The first witness, a state dog warden, described conditions at the Almost Heaven Kennel — shut down by authorities last year — as “foul,” according to the Allentown Morning Call.

“I couldn’t breathe. I wish I could give you what I smell in my mind right now. I’ll never forget it. Ever,” Kristin Donmoyer testified, recounting what she saw during an October 2008 raid at the kennel in Upper Milford Township

She said drains inside the kennel were filled with feces and stagnant liquid that could attract pests and promote disease. “This was foul,” Donmoyer testified. “You couldn’t walk past it without gagging.” She said she saw accumulations of feces, soiled and saturated animal bedding, “gunk” covered fencing, rusty pipes, exposed fiberglass and ripped up flooring.

The state Department of Agriculture found the violations to be so egregious, she said, that it revoked Eckhart’s breeding and boarding licenses.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Conrad, in his opening statement Monday, had warned the jury that they would see some excrement in the trial:

”Are you gonna see turds? You betcha,” he said.

”That fella right there is Derbe ‘Skip’ Eckhart,” Conrad said during his opening. ”This fella right here loves dogs, loves critters … The problem with this guy is that Skip can’t say no to any mutt. That guy right there is just dumb enough to take your ugly dog.”

The defense attorney said Eckhart is the innocent victim of officials seeking media attention: ”Those folks at the Department of Agriculture and the SPCA love money and they love headlines,” he said. ”What we have here is a man that loves animals and a government that loves headlines.”

Wisconsin passes puppy mill bill

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle on Tuesday signed a bill to regulate large-scale dog breeding facilities — a measure he hopes will bring an end to the state’s reputation as a magnet for puppy mills.

“Frankly, when it comes to regulating dog breeders, we have fallen short of many other states – until today,” Doyle said. “We can’t allow these bad actors to continue these practices here in Wisconsin.”

The bill passed the legislature unanimously in November and requires breeders who sell three litters or 25 or more dogs a year to get licensed by the state, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The law also sets regulations to ensure dogs get adequate food, water and exercise and are provided safe enclosures. The department will inspect the facilities and can revoke licenses and impose penalties on breeders.

“The puppy mills won’t disappear overnight simply because of the new law,” Eilene Ribbens, executive director of the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project, said. “It will take years of work to clean up after a very cruel and abusive industry that flourished in Wisconsin during years with no regulation. We have much work ahead of us.”

The Humane Society of the United States said Wisconsin joins nine other states that passed new laws this year to protect both the dogs in puppy mills and the consumers who often unwittingly purchase sick puppies.

In addition to Wisconsin, bills to regulate puppy mills were enacted by the 2009 state legislatures in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, according to a HSUS press release.

Almost Heaven owner withdraws guilty plea

eckhartThe operator of the Almost Heaven dog kennel has withdrawn his guilty pleas to animal cruelty charges, choosing instead to stand trial in Lehigh County Court in Pennsylvania.

Judge Robert L. Steinberg, who was scheduled to sentence Derbe “Skip” Eckhart , instead approved his request to withdraw guilty pleas that had been entered in court on Sept. 22. The judge ordered Eckhart’s bail increased to $25,000 and ordered him to stop working as a dog groomer pending the outcome of the trial, according to the Allentown Morning Call. “Your employment involving animals is now at an end,” the judge said.

Eckhart’s, who has prior animal cruelty convictions from 1988 and 1993, is facing four new counts in connection with the  operation of Almost Heaven Kennel in Upper Milford Township. The kennel was shut down in June following mounting complaints and dog law violations, and more than 200 dogs were seized.lehighkennel

When the trial does take place, it’s a safe bet the American Kennel Club won’t be testifying on his behalf.

According to a letter the AKC sent to the Lehigh County Probation Department, the non-profit organization has suspended his membership — three times.

The letter, as reported by columnist Bill White in his blog for the Morning Call, recounts that the AKC initially suspended Eckhart in 1988 after his conviction animal cruelty conviction, then extended the suspension to 25 years after learning in 1994 of another conviction in 1991. In May 2002, the AKC received information that Derbe Eckhart had sought the AKC seal of approval under the name ‘Skip’ Eckhart.

Upon learning he had managed to circumvent the suspension, the AKC took Eckhart to court, where an order was issued prohibiting him from claiming any affiliation with the AKC.  He was also ordered to pay AKC $8,910.21, but has not done so, the letter said.

Almost Heaven operator faces 3-year sentence

Derbe “Skip” Eckhart, former operator of Pennsylvania’s Almost Heaven Kennel, faces up to three years in prison after pleading guilty in Lehigh County Court yesterday to animal cruelty and multiple dog law violations.

Eckhart also faces fines of up to $7,500 under a plea agreement reached with the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office.

The kennel in Upper Milford Township was shut down in June.

Eckhart pleaded guilty to two counts of animal cruelty, three counts of violating a cease and desist order and failing to remove 216 dogs from the kennel after the period to appeal his denied operating license expired, the Allentown Morning Call reported.

Prosecutor Jay Jenkins said that under the agreement, Eckhart does not intend to be involved in any other kennel, but would like to keep some of his personal animals and continue working as a groomer at a Fogelsville business.

Judge Robert L. Steinberg will determine that, and Eckhart’s sentence, at a Nov. 16 hearing.

Pennsylvania breeders face New Jersey trial

Jury selection begins this week in New Jersey in a  lawsuit against CCPets, a Pennsylvania kennel with a long history of trouble.

Lewis and Stephanie Ostrander, of Cape May County, N.J.,  sued C.C. Pets alleging that the Labradoodle they bought in 2006 was diseased and dying, according to Philly Dawg, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s animal blog.

The lawsuit names kennel owners Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus, who have a history of dog law violations and were the subject of the largest consumer settlement involving pet sales in Pennsylvania.

Read more »

Shooting your dog in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled Friday that a state animal cruelty law is too vague and confusing to be used to prosecute people for shooting and killing their dogs or cats.

The Superior Court overturned the conviction of a northeastern Pennsylvania woman on conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals in the 2006 shooting outside Weissport of her 6-year-old pit bull-chow mix, named Bouta.

“If the Legislature wishes to make it criminal to shoot one’s own dog or cat, it must do so in a clear, unambiguous manner to give reasonable notice that the act is criminal,” wrote Judge Richard B. Klein for the majority. “It did not do so in this case.”

It was the second time in less than a year that the appeals court ruled in favor of Wendy Colleen Kneller of Carbon County, according to an Associated Press report. A decision last February was issued by only three judges, but the court agreed to hear it argued again and on Friday issued an 8-1 ruling.

The dissenting judge, Correale F. Stevens, wrote, “A sweeping policy conclusion that a dog owner can shoot a healthy, happy dog for no reason … would replace the call of ‘Lassie, come home’ with ‘Lassie, run for your life.”‘

The court said Kneller told a state trooper that the dog had bitten her child. Prosecutors said Kneller gave her boyfriend a .40-caliber handgun and told him to shoot the dog. Her lawyer, Paul Levy, said Friday that some people do not have the money to have their pets euthanized at an animal clinic.

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