Dog breeder with history of kennel violations seeks new license

When it comes to animal welfare Lancaster County dog breeder John Esh has never met a federal or state law he couldn't break. For at least two decades he has repeatedly violated laws established to protect animals in high volume breeding kennels:

He kept tiny lap dogs in dark  barns, thick with the smell of ammonia, with no heat or bedding in the winter and no cool air in the summer.

Together with his son Daniel Esh, he allowed sick and injured animals to suffer in rusted wire cages with feces-encrusted openings so large in the cage floors their little legs fell through.

Their veterinarian was convicted animal abuser Tom Stevenson.

We are talking about thousands of dogs over the years.

And when the Eshes were caught not complying with the law they'd sign agreements with the authorities - one in 1998 with the state attorney general for selling dogs to pet stores without a federal license - promising to get the necessary license or clean up the kennel.

That would generally last for one inspection and then it would deteriorate so badly he'd fail the next inspection. This doesn't include the Eshes miserable record of violating state Puppy Lemon Law for selling sick puppies to unwitting consumers.

This cycle went on for years.  

When all else failed John Esh would turn in his license - and keep selling dogs.

It happened with his federal license and it happened in 2010 when the new canine health regulations governing large commercial kennels went into effect.

So why would the state grant John Esh yet another license?

Michael Pechart, director of the Dog Law Enforcement Office, was poised to grant 80-year-old John Esh, a license to keep as many as 100 dogs on his Ronks property this week, but now says he is reviewing his options.

"I do not want to approve this application," said Pechart.

Pechart says he is being pressured by Esh's lawyer Jeffrey Conrad, of Clymer, Musser & Conrad (founding partner Leonard Brown is now a Lancaster County judge). a self-described defender of individuals charged with animal abuse.

Under the 2008 dog law anyone convicted of animal cruelty is forbidden from possessing a kennel license for 10 years. There is wide discretion for the Secretary of Agriculture to deny license to those who repeatedly violate the law or make misstatements relating to their license.

"They've historically proven that dogs were mistreated in those kennels," said Tom Hickey, a member of the dog law advisory board. "Pennsylvania law is clear that a history of offenses in a kennel is grounds for refusal of a kennel license."

Public records show Esh, is a chronic offender of animal welfare laws.

Esh and his son Daniel have operated kennels together and separately at 68 Clearview Ave. in Ronks. The kennel was originally known as Clearview, but when word got out that the two ran abusive puppy mills they separated in 2007 and reopened under new names: Scarlet Maple (Daniel Esh) and Twin Maple (John Esh).

This despite the fact the kennel buildings were located on the same property a stone's throw from one another. When they both shut down in 2010 they fought with dog law over the property deed and kennel license, saying they should both be allowed to keep 25 dogs without a license.

John Esh's lawyer at the time, Leonard Brown, argued the two should be allowed to have 50 dogs on the same property on religious grounds. Brown wrote to state officials that because the Amish have large families that live on the same property they should be granted an exception.

Earlier this year the state caught John Esh again keeping more than 25 dogs without a license. They were unable to pin the same charge on his son Daniel, although information provided on a Lancaster County web forum  suggests he too was continuing to sell dogs.

In March after convicting John Esh of running an unlicensed kennel, Magisterial District Judge Isaac Stoltzfus said in court to Esh "why don't you just get a license?"  said Pechart.

Animal welfare advocates say issuing a kennel license to a chronic violator would send a message to other violators that all they need to do is pay a small fine (typically less than the wholesale cost of a designer puppy) and the state will reward them with a license.

Pechart says Esh passed his opening inspection earlier this month. Esh wants a K-2 license that would allow him to house up to 100 dogs as long as he doesn't sell more than 60 dogs a year.

Anyone who transfers more than 60 dogs a year must comply with the stricter commercial canine health regulations that require larger cages, exercise, ventilation, ammonia and lighting levels and regular veterinary exams.

Let us note here that among his myriad violations, John Esh has repeatedly violated requirements on record keeping.