LanCo home invasion: Puppy deal gone bad?

Lest there be any doubt that there is big money and a dark underworld in puppy sales, consider this recent news item from Lancaster County.

A robber broke into the Ephrata home of an unnamed elderly couple on Tuesday, threatened to tie them up and robbed them at gunpoint.

The police report says the assailant was looking for "puppies to buy."

Sources tell us the victim was the notorious puppy mill operator and broker David M. Zimmerman.  

The couple told police a man entered their home looking for puppies and when they said they didn't have any he took out a gun and demanded money.

The victims gave the robber an undetermined amount of cash. The suspect threatened to tie up both victims but did not after the victims pleaded that he not and he left the house, the police report said.

Zimmerman, 72, has operated kennels, both legally and illegally, since at least 1986, according to federal documents.

A member of a large Old Order Mennonite family, many of whom are or were puppy mill operators, Zimmerman has been a thorn in the side of federal and state regulators for more than two decades.

His kennel once held as many as 300 dogs who lived in abject squalor. Inspection reports over a number of years note adult breeding dogs and puppies standing on broken wire in undersized cages, their food bowls contaminated with and mold and excrement, filthy water bowl and their fur covered in thick mats.

In one case the temperatures were so cold in his kennel that icicles were hanging from cages. In another case a male Yorkie was attacking a female in a cage who was found "bleeding profusely."

Numerous veterinary exams were ordered on Zimmerman's dogs over the years.

In 1998 Zimmerman was permanently barred from obtaining a federal license after he was caught by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors selling to pet stores without a license.

In 1996, when he possessed a federal license, he was fined for repeatedly violating the Animal Welfare Act. During one two-year period he committed 75 federal violations. In all he was fined $80,000 for violating federal law, documents show.

Zimmerman continued operating as a retail dealer with a state license under the name Sun Shine Kennel, until 2010, shortly after the new, strict dog law took effect.

His son Ervin Zimmerman was convicted of 11 counts of animal cruelty in 2008 and his state license was revoked. Another son James Zimmerman closed his commercial kennel in 2009. A third son Samuel Zimmerman moved his kennel to the Finger Lakes region in New York. A brother Amos M. Zimmerman continues to run a commercial kennel in West Earl with 313 dogs on the property according to an April inspection report.

Kennel inspections throughout the last decade indicated David Zimmerman repeatedly violated the state dog law for whch he was cited only four times. He pleaded guilty to one count of unsanitary conditions in 2009 and was fined $50.

When Zimmerman gave up his license, a final inspection report showed he still had 20 adult breeding dogs (the threshold for the license requirement is 25) but few in the animal welfare community believed he really went out of business.

Zimmerman's wife told The Lancaster Intelligencer this week the couple "formerly operated a kennel but rarely sell puppies these days."

But individuals who track interstate sales of Pennsylvania dogs say Zimmerman runs a busy puppy broker business, serving as the middleman between other Mennonite and Amish breeders and New Jersey street dog dealers who place ads in local papers and sell puppies to the public out of the backs of their vehicles.