Almost Heaven Kennel Faces New Probe

A problem-plagued Lehigh County kennel is the subject of new scrutiny, this time by the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.

State dog wardens today entered  the property of Almost Heaven kennel, where PSPCA agents in October found 800 animals living in squalor, to investigate a claim that the kennel had illegally changed ownership. 

The action came after the appearance of a new Web site for T.A.S. Kennel, which advertised puppies for sale said it was operating on the Emmaus property where Almost Heaven kennel had been located. Animal welfare advocates alerted the bureau which dispatched an undercover warden to the property earlier today. The individual told the warden the property transfer had taken place, which allowed the warden to obtained a search warrant, state officials said.

A Department of Agriculture spokesman said wardens are reviewing the records to determine if the transfer of owner ship took place and whether the new owner will face charges. It is illegal to operate a kennel with more than 25 dogs without a state license.

Meanwhile, Almost Heaven kennel operator Derbe “Skip” Eckhart is scheduled to face charges of cruelty and violating the dog law on Jan. 27 in the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown. The charges against Eckhart stem from the October raid where agents found hundreds of animals living in cramped, dirty kennels and removed several dozen sick dogs and a guinea pig. Hundreds of other animals, including dogs, monkeys, birds and horses, who were not in need of immediate care were left on the property pending the outcome of the court hearing.

In other kennel-related court news, the hearing to determine whether Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus, owners of CC Pets (formerly Puppy Love) kennel in Lancaster County, violated the terms of an agreement with the state Attorney General's office was postponed this week.

The Commonwealth Court granted a continuance before the Jan. 21 court date at the request of the Stoltzfus' attorney and set a new court date of April 6 in Harrisburg. Attorney General Tom Corbett is seeking an injunction to close the kennel and impose a maximum fine of $4.4 million against the operators for failing to identify the kennel in hundreds of classified ads as required under a three-year-old agreement. The 2005 agreement, which stemmed from the sale of sick dogs to 171 buyers, was the result of the largest consumer fraud suit involving pet sales in state history.