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Tag: pennsylvania

Worst in show: Pair stole from elderly sisters to pay their dog show expenses, police say

ashleyTo pay for their dog show habit, two Pennsylvania women stole thousands of dollars from the life savings of two elderly sisters, state police say.

Jessica S. Skacel, 30, of Derry, and Ashley M. Giovannagelo, 22, of Greensburg, were charged with criminal conspiracy and theft, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported yesterday.

According to court documents, Skacel was hired as a caretaker for the sisters, now ages 85 and 83, in their home in Derry Township in 2011. Giovannagelo later assisted her in those duties.

Police say they started stealing from the sisters — both from their bank accounts and money the sisters had squirreled away in hiding places around the house — in early 2012.

Police began an investigation after a man who has power of attorney for the sisters noticed their bank accounts, both of which exceeded $100,000, ” were basically empty,” according to court documents.

“The bank records showed that both victims were making regular, large cash withdrawals from their accounts in amounts such as $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and even $20,000 at a time,” an investigating officer stated.

Police say the money was used to cover travel expenses to dog shows. Skacel’s former husband, Kyle Squib, told police she purchased two trailers for more than $5,000 to transport dogs to shows.

Police say Skacel admitted to stealing an estimated $40,000-$50,000 from the sisters.

Skacel is a dog groomer and Giovannagelo shows dogs regularly, according to their Facebook pages.

Skacel and Giovannagelo were fired as caretakers for the sisters in September 2013, shortly after the investigation began, police said.

Both face preliminary hearings Sept. 3 before a district judge.

(Photo: Ashley Giovannagelo shows a St. Bernard at a dog show in a photo posted on her Facebook page)

Mighty Casey passes out

A family in western Pennsylvania says their schnauzer got so excited about seeing their daughter for the first time in two years that she passed out — the schnauzer, that is.

A video of the reunion was posted on YouTube four days ago.

Rebecca Svetina and her husband, Miha, have been living in Slovenia and returned home to have a wedding reception at the home of Rebecca’s parents in Murrysville.

Miha was recording the reunion to show his relatives overseas how excited Casey gets when Rebecca returns home, but this time, something happened that never happened before – Casey passed out.

“We never expected her to pass out, but luckily she’s fine,” Rebecca told WTAE in Pittsburgh.

“I think our hearts stopped a little bit as well until she came back and started running around, and we knew everything would be OK,” said Miha.

Both were surprised when the video of the 9-year-old schnauzer went viral — approaching 17 million views by this morning — and prompting calls from news organizations around the world.

The next day, we woke up to a crazy day. The views went sky high,” Miha Svetina said. “It’s so genuine. It’s so cute. There are so many things going on in the world. People are actually excited when they see something so nice and dogs are just awesome.”

Clearing the name of Pep the prison dog

pepFolklore has it that Pep, a black Lab that belonged to a Pennsylvania governor, was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1920s to serve a life sentence for killing the governor’s wife’s cat.

Folklore, as is often the case, has it wrong.

Pep apparently was guilty of nothing more than chewing up sofa cushions, and, once it was decided he lacked the proper decorum to live at the governor’s mansion, he was sent to the prison in Philadelphia by Gov. Gifford Pinchot.

That was done not so much as punishment, but to provide him a home and see if he could aid in the rehabilitation of inmates, according to the governor’s papers.

Apparently a newspaper reporter came up with the tall tale of the dog sentenced to prison for cat murder, and a mugshot taken of Pep at the prison supplied some credence to the story.

Despite attempts to set the record straight, the myth lingers to this day.

According to EasternState.org, a non-profit group that now runs a haunted house at the abandoned prison, Pep “The Cat-Murdering Dog” was admitted to Eastern State Penitentiary on August 12, 1924.

“Prison folklore tells us that Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot used his executive powers to sentence Pep to life without parole for killing his wife’s cherished cat,” the website says, adding that prison records, including Pep being assigned his own inmate number (C-2559), support the story.

It notes that the governor had a different version of what happened — namely that he sent Pep to Eastern to act as a mascot for the prisoners. The governor, it says, was a friend of the warden, Herbert “Hard-Boiled” Smith.

A more thorough account of how Pep landed in prison can be found on the website Suite101.com.

Pep, that story explains, was a gift to Gov. Pinchot during his first gubernatorial term (1923–1927), from the nephew of his wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot. The nephew bred Labrador retrievers. But the gift turned out to be a destructive one. Pep developed a habit of chewing on the cushions of the front porch sofa.

“… Pinchot decided that Pep had to go, but for the sake of family harmony he did not want to end the dog’s life,” the Suite101 account says. “Fortunately, an official trip gave him the idea for a convenient way of getting the dog out of his home. On a visit to Maine, Pinchot had seen dogs that were used as therapy to help inmates. So when the governor got back to Pennsylvania he decided to give the troublesome Pep to Eastern State Penitentiary as a pet.”

At the time, some inmates kept pigeons and mice as pets, but not dogs. The only dogs at the prison were guard dogs, there to ensure prisoners stayed inside and in line.

But the inmates quickly developed a fondness for Pep, and apparently vice versa. Pep lived among the inmates at Eastern State for about a decade until he was transferred to newly constructed state prison called Graterford.

Two years after he was sent to Eastern, in 1926, Cornelia Bryce-Pinchot issued a statement to the New York Times in an attempt to clear Pep’s name.

Governor Pinchot’s son also maintained that there was no murder involved.

“A newspaper reporter with a sense of humor and disregard for the truth wrote that Pep had been sentenced to prison for life for killing Mrs. Pinchot’s favorite cat,” the Suite 101 article says.

The son said his father got “absolutely thousands of letters” about Pep and this sentence, according to papers at Grey Towers National Historic Site, Governor Pinchot’s home in Milford. The made-up account, along with the mugshot, was frequently reprinted in tabloids at the time.

As some have noted, Pep — innocent as he might have been — looks pretty guilty in the mugshot.

But then again, don’t we all?

(Image: Artist rendering of Pep, based on an archival photo / Easternstate.org)

Agency files lawsuit seeking to “repossess” handicapped priest’s retired service dog

A Pennsylvania service dog agency is suing an Episcopal priest with cerebral palsy to force her to give up the service dog she has had since 2007.

So reports the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The Rev. Claire Wimbush says it’s unlikely she could continue living on her own without Willa, a 10-year-old yellow Labrador retriever provided to her through Canine Partners for Life, a Cochranville, Pa.-based agency that says it wants the dog back for reasons not fully specified.

Canine Partners filed suit last month in Pennsylvania Supreme Court, accusing Wimbush of violating her dog care contract and asking the court to order the dog’s return — along with “reimbursement of all costs and expenses, including legal and court fees.”

Darlene Sullivan, executive director of Canine Partners, declined to comment on the specifics of Wimbush’s case, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. The newspaper is owned by Gannett Co. Inc., and the Rev. Wimbush is the daughter of Gannett Vice President Jane Ann Wimbush.

According to the lawsuit, the Rev. Wimbush did not follow the agency’s training rules, including those that require recipients of  its dogs to maintain contact through follow-up reports. 

“If on repeated occasions there are problems with compliance, we will place that person on probation and they will get a letter explaining everything about why and letting them know if there are further violations they will lose their dog,” the agency’s director said. “If it gets to that point, and they refuse to return the dog to us, we have no choice but to take legal action.”

The Rev. Wimbush said she believes the agency wants Willa back because she was late turning in paperwork about the dog’s health and behavior. She said the documents were mailed on March 25, but Canine Partners didn’t get them by the April 2 deadline. An email from the agency came on April 4, saying arrangements needed to be made for the dog’s return. Six days later, she says, she received a letter telling her to bring Willa to the airport for “repossession.”

wimbushandwilla“I’m bewildered by this,” said Wimbush, who who has spastic cerebral palsy quadriplegia and uses a motorized wheelchair for mobility. Wimbush served as Curate of Christian Education at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Rochester from 2011 until last weekend, and is now planning to move back to her native Virginia to be closer to her mother.

On a website supporting her campaign to keep the dog, claireandwilla.com, the Rev. Wimbush notes that Willa’s status changed in February, 2012, when she retired from being a service dog and became a home companion dog:

“My ministry had changed; I was no longer moving from place to place over the course of a day, so I didn’t need her to help me carry things and open doors as often. The Rochester winters are tough on both of us. She was nine years old, almost ten; it seemed like the right time to make a change. Since her retirement, she gets to be petted and admired by all the members of my congregation, especially the elementary school crowd. She still goes with me to the church most days, and often accompanies me when I visit parishioners in animal-friendly retirement communities…”

The reverend admits to having had trouble keeping up with the agency’s required paperwork in 2007, due to illness. The lawsuit says she has had a history of not complying with those requirements. In 2009, the suit says, Wimbush was placed on “permanent probation” and told that any future violations would result in the immediate loss of the dog.

On the Facebook page of Canine Partners for Life, the agency is taking some lumps for filing the lawsuit against the handicapped priest, and some commenters are saying it is “shameful” for it to be demanding the dog back.

“What part of ‘for life’ am I missing?” one person wrote.

It’s unusual for an agency like Canine Partners to demand a dog be returned, according to Toni Eames, president of the International Association of Assistant Dog Partners, an advocacy group of people with guide, hearing and service dogs.

“It’s a very legitimate agency, and there has to be something, mistreatment of the dog, neglect, maybe it has gained a tremendous amount of weight or there’s abuse, there‘s got to be something. Filing papers late is not a reason to demand return of a dog,” she told the newspaper.

Marsha Sweet, assistant director of independent living services for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, knew of only two such cases, and both times an agreement was reached allowing the person to keep the dog. “Usually, the agencies really try to remedy the situation,” she said.

The Rev. Wimbush hopes that might still happen, and an agreement can be worked out.

“I would do anything, anything, to keep my dog,” she said.

(Photo: ClaireandWilla.com)

Court affirms that piercing cats is cruelty

Piercing kittens is cruel, a panel of Pennsylvania judges has affirmed.

Three judges of the Superior Court upheld a conviction for animal cruelty of a dog groomer who had offered “gothic” kittens for sale on eBay.

An investigation into the pierced kittens began in 2008 when a citizen saw the animals being offered for $100 each on eBay, inquired about them and reported it to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Luzerne County, according to the Times Leader in Wilkes Barre.

A citizen tipped off PETA, as well, which conducted an investigation of its own and passed on information to the SPCA.

Accompanied by state police, SPCA officials visited Pawside Parlor, located at the home of Holly Crawford in Sweet Valley, Pa. They removed three kittens and a cat. While at the home, police also found a dog with pierced ears.

A jury found Crawford guilty of animal cruelty, and last year she was sentenced to six months of home detention and electronic monitoring, followed by probation.

In her appeal, Crawford argued that Pennsylvania’s cruelty statutes were too vague, and pointed out that many accepted veterinary procedures like declawing cats and cutting a dog’s vocal cords could fall under the same category she was being prosecuted under.

The law forbids “acts that maim, mutilate, torture or disfigure the animal.”

This week, the Superior Court panel upheld the lower court’s findings, the New York Times reported.

In a 19-page opinion, Judge Kate Ford Elliott wrote that “metal protruded from the kittens’ small bodies, pierced through their ears and necks, and at least one of these kittens also had an elastic band tied around its tail, an attempt at docking …”

Crawford, who was described in the opinion as being “enthusiastic about piercing,” had admitted to piercing the kittens without anesthetic.

“Appellant’s claims center on her premise that a person of normal intelligence would not know whether piercing a kitten’s ears or banding its tail is maiming, mutilating, torturing or disfiguring an animal.” Judge Elliott wrote.  “We disagree.”

Arrests made in Pennsylvania dog burning

Two western Pennsylvania residents have been charged with animal cruelty in connection with the burning and abandoning of a 1-year-old mixed breed dog named Chance.

Van Tassel

Clarke

Raelynn Van Tassel, 23, and Shannon Clarke, 34, both of Sharon, are accused of keeping the dog in a basement for several days without medical treatment after inflicting what are believed to be chemical burns. Days later, they abandoned him in the streets.

In addition to burns over two-thirds of his body, the dog also was found with three broken teeth and a laceration to its mouth, according to WYTV.

The dog was found by a police officer on April 10 and turned over to the Mercer County Humane Society, which took Chance to a local veterinarian for treatment.

He has since been adopted and is expected to survive.

The Mercer County District Attorney’s office and the humane society conducted the investigation.

Playing dirty at the dog show?

Police have filed animal cruelty charges against a Pennsylvania man who allegedly drugged a competitor’s Siberian husky at a dog show in Wheaton.

Ralph Ullum, 68 of Claysville, was attending a kennel club show in December at the DuPage County Fairgrounds with his girlfriend, whose Siberian husky, Diana, was entered in the competition.

He’s accused of feeding Protonix and possibly Benadryl to a competing husky, named Pixie, NBC in Chicago reported.

Pixie’s handler, Jessica Plourde of Newark Valley, N.Y., noticed a crushed pink pill near Pixie’s cage on the second day of competition, according to police. Later, witnesses came forward saying they had seen Ullum feeding and petting Pixie while Plourde was away from the cage

A veterinarian induced vomiting in Pixie and found a rubber band, dog food, chicken pieces and an undigested Protonix pill. Protonix is used to treat acid reflux and heartburn. Wheaton police say the pink crushed pill found near Pixie’s cage is believed to be Benadryl, an over the counter allergy medicine that can cause drowsiness.

Ullum denied feeding anything to Pixie, but said he did pet her.

His hearing on misdemeanor cruelty to animals charges is scheduled for June.