Ex-PA kennel owner found guilty of cruelty

An ex-Lehigh County kennel owner, with a track record of animal abuse dating back to the 1980s, has been found guilty of animal cruelty.

After 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, a jury found Derbe Eckhart, owner of the now defunct Almost Heaven kennel, guilty of two counts of animal cruelty.  But he was acquitted on four animal cruelty charges following his six-day trial in Lehigh County Court, according to the Morning Call of Allentown.

The jury, which could not reach a verdict on two other animal cruelty charges, found Eckhart guilty of three charges related to the violation of a cease and desist order.

Judge Robert L. Steinberg also found Eckhart guilty of several summary offenses, including two counts of animal cruelty and various other offenses related to kennel maintenance, the newspaper reported.

Eckhart faces up to one year in prison for each of the five crimes for which he was convicted. Sentencing is scheduled for May 18.

In closing arguments earlier today, Lehigh County prosecutor Jay Jenkins told a jury that Eckhart, who at one time had 800 animals on his property, ignored his duty of care and endangered the lives of the animals.

Defense attorney Jeff Conrad argued the case was manufactured by the Pennsylvania SPCA in order to "gain headlines," raise money and put a large kennel out of business.

Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, said it was a verdict "worth cheering about." Smith, who in the past decade has taken in scores of dogs from Almost Heaven and spent thousands nursing them back to health, said he hopes that as part of the sentence, the judge bars Eckhart from ever owning animals again. Under terms of his probation last year, Steinberg ordered Eckhart not to have contact with animals.