Update: Almost Heaven raid caps 20-year-long rap sheet

A Department of Agriculture official tells me that the ten days granted to kennel owner Derbe Eckhart to disperse his dogs after his license was refused and his appeals exhausted, had in fact, expired at the time of the raid. In normal circumstances where the lives of the dogs were not at risk, the official said, they would give the kennel owner a "few days" grace time to remove their dogs.

The 216 dogs seized from a Lehigh County kennel were barely settled in at the Farm Show area in Harrisburg last week when naysayers from dog breeding circles started blasting the raid in Internet chat rooms, questioning its legality and whether dogs were truly "abused." One member of a forum hosted by the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs asked: "What kind of protection do any of us have from a trumped up search and seizure?"

Here are the facts about the raid: The state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, with the help of the Humane Society of the United States, entered Almost Heaven kennel in Emmaus last Tuesday after owner Derbe Eckhart's license revocation appeal process had been exhausted. Under the new dog law, a kennel owner in similar circumstances would have 10 days to disperse their dogs, but Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for Dog Law Enforcement, said the bureau moved swiftly without notice because Eckhart had threatened a dog warden that he would kill his dogs before anyone took them away.

Smith said the department asked for the help of HSUS because it had the resources - most importantly a climate-controlled tractor trailer - needed to remove a large number of dogs safely. Smith said ownership of the dogs was transferred to HSUS - which dispersed them to Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.-area shelters - and under dog law does not need to have a Pennsylvania kennel license. The law states the dogs may be transferred to an entity "approved by the department."

On the question of "trumped up charges," it seemed like a good time to review Eckhart's long record of run-ins with the law, including a stint in prison - the only jail sentence I have heard imposed on someone for having unsanitary kennel conditions. In fact, I am unaware of any prison sentence imposed on someone convicted of animal abuse in Pennsylvania, although animal rights activists remind me that people have gone to jail for trying to protect animals (activists were jailed - some for as long as two weeks - for protesting at the now-defunct Hegins pigeon shoot in the early 1990s).

Here's a look at Eckhart's criminal chronology as compiled by the website www.pet-abuse.com, based in large part on seven years of reporting by Bill White of the Morning Call of Allentown:

Feb 6, 2009 - Emmaus, PA (US)
Alleged: Operating boarding kennel after license refusal

Oct 1, 2008 - Emmaus, PA (US)
Alleged: Puppy mill - 800 animals, 125 seized

Jul 19, 2006 - Emmaus, PA (US)
Not Charged: Housing exotic animals

Aug 2004 - Emmaus, PA (US)
Civil Case: Dog breeders given lifetime ban by American Kennel Club

Notes: Lifetime ban from AKC

Apr 1999 - Allentown, PA (US)
Not Charged: AKC suspended breeder using alias to register dogs

Jun 1991 - Allentown, PA (US)
Convicted: Convicted abuser operating unlicensed kennels

May 1991 - Weissport, PA (US)
Convicted: Convicted abuser operating unlicensed kennel

Apr 1990 - Lehighton, PA (US)
Convicted: 10 puppies die from lack of sustenance

Jun 1989 - Allentown, PA (US)
Convicted: Convicted abuser suspended from AKC until 2019

Aug 1988 - Lehighton, PA (US)
Convicted: 45 dogs, 3 cats starved, removed from home

Sentence: Fined $100 each for 32 citations for cruelty to animals; sentenced to 2 to 10 months in Carbon County Prison for allowing unsanitary conditions at the kennel.

At the time his application for a new license was refused in January, Eckhart had repeatedly violated the terms of his license revocation issued following a raid by the Pennsylvania SPCA in October 2008. Eckhart also was operating under a 2004 consent agreement with the Attorney General issued after the state determined he had violated consumer protection law for failing to provide health certificates signed by a veterinarian and failing to provide a guarantee of good health. The Attorney General's office said in February that it had received 20 complaints since 2004.

A Morning Call investigation last year that tested the DNA of several dogs sold by Eckhart concluded that he had misrepresented the breeds sold to unsuspecting customers.

Rescue groups, which have taken in hundreds of sick and injured dogs voluntarily surrendered by Eckhart over the last five years, say most suffered from health problems or injuries, including dogs with broken backs and a poodle who had to have a chain removed from its stomach.

Eckhart is among the top tax delinquents in the state. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, he owes more than $80,000 in back taxes.

Eckhart also faces a raft of new charges for violations to the terms of the license revocation process which required him to downsize the kennel and not breed or expand the number dogs on the property. In an inspection earlier this year, dog wardens found dozens of new dogs on site and additional dogs being boarded at the kennel. Main Line Animal Rescue of Chester Springs, which took in 17 dogs from the raid, said at least two are pregnant.

Eckhart today will be charged with 22 new counts of animal cruelty, the result of a raid conducted by the Pennsylvania SPCA last Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the organization said. Based on information provided by dog wardens and HSUS staff the day before, the PSPCA removed 18 exotic cats (including Himalayans and Persians) and four more dogs with serious health problems. Under state law Eckhart may own up to 25 dogs without a license. He also has horses, birds, guinea pigs and monkeys on the property.