DA reduces cruelty charges against Chesco veterinarian

Three months ago a Lancaster County assistant district attorney called the action of a Chester County veterinarian who allegedly mutilated a puppy's tail "beyond cruel" and "reprehensible." 

Now Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman has - for reasons still unknown - agreed to reduce the animal cruelty charge against Tom Stevenson, of Twin Valley Veterinary Clinic in Honey Brook, and send the case back to lower court. 

"We remanded the case to lower court for disposition...and reduced the grading to a summary," said Stedman in an interview last week, declining to elaborate on the rationale behind the move.

"This was not done lightly and was not done in isolation," Stedman said of the move. "I was involved with the decision."

Stevenson's attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

The original first-degree misdemeanor cruelty charge - which carried with it a possible five-year jail term and $10,000 fine - has been reduced to a summary, with a maximum 90 days in prison and $750 fine, Stedman said.

There is no indication on the magisterial district judge docket sheet of when the case is to be heard. A pre-trial conference listed on the Lancaster Court of Common Pleas calendar for Dec. 15 was cancelled.

But some animal welfare advocates said they were dismayed that the district attorney would not aggressively prosecute an individual who they say has helped keep bad puppy mills in business. 

"It's a tragedy," said Bob Baker, an investigator with the ASPCA, who has spent almost 30 years documenting conditions in Pennsylvania's puppy mills. "Stevenson has been enabling the trade in puppy mill dogs and sick animals for years." 

Until his license was suspended as a result of the charges in July, Stevenson was for the primary veterinarian for some of the state's larges commercial kennels, responsible for the health care of thousands of dogs.

Stevenson's medical license was suspended in April pending the outcome of the trial. But his practice has remained open with other vets in attendance, including his wife, who recently renewed her license. Still, witnesses say they have observed Stevenson in the office performing procedures on animals.

A Department of State official said that the veterinary board cannot deny the spouse of a practitioner whose license is suspended their constitutional right to a license.

A hearing on the suspension order for Stevenson's license was postponed and has not been rescheduled, according to a spokeswoman for the department of state.

In July, District Judge Stuart Mylin ruled there was enough evidence against Stevenson stemming from a March incident at a Lancaster County kennel to stand trial on animal cruelty charges.

According to the criminal complaint, an agent with the Pennsylvania SPCA and Helen Smith of Main Line Animal Rescue in Chester Springs, said on March 10 they saw Stevenson amputate a puppy's tail without anesthesia while holding it under scalding water.

The PSPCA brought the charges against Stevenson but they have not responded to requests for comment.

Among Stevenson's lengthy list of clients was Joyce Stoltzfus, operator of CC Pets (formerly Puppy Love) in Peach Bottom, which until its closure by the state this year sold between 1,800 and 2,000 puppies a year.

Stoltzfus - who was the subject of the largest consumer fraud lawsuit involving pet sales in Pennsylvania history -  and Stevenson were named in a lawsuit filed by a New Jersey couple who bought a sick puppy from Stoltzfus. The puppy succumbed to a fatal disease shortly after they brought it home and Stevenson's initials were on the health certificate stating it had received all of its vaccinations and was fit for sale. 

That lawsuit was settled in July for an undisclosed amount.

Stevenson also certified the health of many dogs bred in Pennsylvania and sold in pet stores in New Jersey.

Stevenson also is the target of a action by the U.S. Justice Department for tax evasion. The agency asked the U.S. District Court to secure $489,418 in back taxes owed by Stevenson. The complaint says Stevenson failed to pay federal income taxes between 1994 and 1999 and that the agency was seeking to compel the sale of Stevenson's house in Elverson to pay the bill.