Eckhart in tears, tells jury he loved his dogs

Ex-kennel owner Derbe Eckhart broke down in tears on the witness stand in his animal cruelty trial on Friday saying he loved his animals and kept a clean kennel.

Eckhart, owner of the now defunct Almost Heaven kennel, testified in a Lehigh County court that most of the dogs investigators claim were injured or filthy when they raided in October 2008 were rescue dogs that were given to him by others, according to news reports. 

He said he tried to get them vet care and groom them.

"I've had breeders tell me, 'If you don't come get this dog, I'm going to shoot him,' " Eckhart told the jury.

Prosecutors allege Eckhart kept hundreds of dogs in filthy conditions. Witnesses from the Pennsylvania SPCA, which raided the kennel in October 2008, and the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, which seized 217 dogs in June 2009 and revoked Eckhart's kennel license, testified earlier this week that dogs lived in their own urine and feces and suffered from a lack of routine veterinary care.

Eckhart's veterinarian, Carol Miller, and a former PSPCA investigator, Chris Martin - who was fired from his job at the PSPCA for failing to perform his duties - said they saw no evidence of cruelty at the kennel.

Eckhart has two prior convictions on animal cruelty dating to 1988.

Rescue groups report pulling hundreds of dogs from his kennel in past years, most suffering from serious ailments including skin disease, severe dental disease, broken bones - even dogs that were burned. In one case, a choke collar was removed from the stomach of a dog. Virtually all dogs suffered from psychological trauma and carried a foul stench that took months to remove, rescuers say. For the rescuers' stories click here.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.