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Tag: violations

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.”

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eckhartThe operator of the Almost Heaven dog kennel has withdrawn his guilty pleas to animal cruelty charges, choosing instead to stand trial in Lehigh County Court in Pennsylvania.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

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 »

City Council hearing scheduled on leash law

This just in: Baltimore’s City Council has scheduled a hearing on reducing the recently imposed $1,000 fine for violating the city’s leash law.

The hearing will be held Tuesday, April 28th, at 10:00 a.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

The $1,000 fine went into effect in February, followed by a crackdown on leash law violations at several city parks. After complaints from dog owners, a proposal to lower the fine was introduced by a group of council members last night. Under the new proposal, the fine for a first offense would be $250, a second $500, and a third $1,000.

The original fine had been $100.

Where those $1,000 fines came from

While they may seem to dog owners to have come out of nowhere, the changes in the city’s animal control law that led to $1,000 fines for off-leash dogs and unscooped poop have a history.

And here it is:

Feb. 25, 2008: The revised law was introduced to the city council, with the following sponsors listed: James B. Kraft, Bill Henry, William H. Cole, IV, Robert W. Curran, Sharon Green Middleton, Edward L. Reisinger, Warren Branch.

It was then sent for review to the following committees and offices:

  • The Public Safety and Health Committee, which completed its review ten months later, gave it a thumbs up.
  • The City Solicitor’s office deemed it legal, which also took ten months.
  • The Health Department, meanwhile, okayed it in three days. Also signing off on it were the city’s Office of Animal Control, Department of Finance and Environmental Control Board.

Dec. 2, 2008: The Public Safety and Health Committee held a public hearing on it.

Dec. 4, 2008: The revised law had its second reading before the city council and was approved.

Jan. 14, 2009: Signed by Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Feb 14, 2009 — Law went into effect.

What little official information can be found about the new law — though it’s not a shining example of clarity — can be found here.

Under the new law, the penalty for letting your dog off his leash, or not picking up dog waste is the same as the penalty for dogfighting. In fact, penalties for more serious offenses were increased far less severely than run of the mill offenses.

For instance, these penalties all went up tenfold: Not having a rabies vaccination (from $50 to $500), not having a license (from $25 to $250), animal disturbing the peace, failure to pick up dog waste, and unleashed dogs (from $100 to $1,000).

Meanwhile, the penalties for dogfighting only doubled ($500 to $1,000), the penalty for abusing an animal went from $200 to $500, and the penalty for operating an unlicensed dog facility only went up from $100 to $250.

So today in Baltimore, thanks to the city council, abusing a dog is a less serious offense — fine-wise, at least — than letting one off his leash, or not picking up his poop.

Crackdown on unleashed dogs in Riverside

Just a quick word of warning for those who take their dogs to Riverside Park in South Baltimore.

Police and animal control officers were at the park today, prepared to dispense some of the city’s new $1,000 citations for violation of the leash law, according to our sources.

The same newly increased penalty applies to owners who fail to pick up their dog’s waste.

Crackdowns usually take place when the weather gets nice, and, thanks to the city council, they now carry a much higher price tag. So, no matter which city park you and your dog visit, watch your step — in every meaning of the phrase.

More leash law citations issued in Baltimore

Three times in 10 days, Baltimore city animal control officers and police have descended on the park at Mount Vernon Square to cite dog owners whose dogs were off their leashes.

According to a Baltimore Sun report, the crackdown was prompted by complaints from area residents who say some dog owners allow their pets to run wild and destroy flower beds.

Failing to have a dog on a leash results in a $100 fine for a first offense and up to a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders. Bob Anderson, director of the Animal Control Office, said those fines could soon increase. Officers have also been citing dog owners who do not pick up their dogs’ waste.

With spring on the way, and the city in financial straits, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of these  — even more than the advent of warmer weather traditionally brings. Most likely, there will be one coming soon to a park near you.

Watch for a lone and dogless undercover officer acting like he’s enjoying a day in the park. If he sees you, he’ll escort you to animal control officers hiding nearby. There you’ll receive your ticket, while police stand by to make sure you don’t abscond. At least that’s how it works at the park I frequent.

Meanwhile, I suggest we all be good dog owner-citizens, keep our dogs on leashes (at least when the authorities are around), scoop our poop, and make sure our dogs don’t tiptoe through, or pee on, the tulips.