Lehigh Co. man convicted in record animal abuse case busted again

One of Pennsylvania's worst puppy mill operators was busted again yesterday.

Derbe "Skip" Eckhart - who ran the notorious Almost Heaven kennel in Lehigh County for years - was caught with several hundred animals on his property, including nearly two dozen horses, 21 dogs, more than 100 birds, three monkeys and so many cats the officers who were on site could not count them, reports the Morning Call of Allentown.

The officers wore masks and gloves due to what was described as an "unhealthy environment" at the property.

Eckhart, the subject of a 2008 raid, the largest in state history, was among the handful of those convicted of animal cruelty to get jail time.

As terms of his 2010 probation he was to own no more animals than those personal pets he had at the time.

Needless to say, animal welfare advocates were saying, "we told you so." yesterday. Eckhart was a dual offender in the world of animal crimes: a hoarder and a breeder,  driven by profit and likely a mental illness.

It's not that authorities can say they were in the dark. Animal advocates were watching him, charting him selling horses on Craig's list and turning up at the infamous Green Dragon auction which once sold dogs to the highest bidder but now sells only birds and guinea pigs and hamsters.

The Pennsylvania SPCA, which executed the 2008 raid found 800 animals on his property near Allentown, including live cats stuffed in crates closets and dead puppies in the fridge. Many that were sick and injured.

The stench from the property wafted onto the busy road adjacent to his property,  overwhelming all of us who covered it.

Those who rescued animals from his puppy mill while it was still licensed by the state found animals with an array of illnesses and injuries including one dog with a choke chain in its stomach. As a kennel operator in different locations for two decades, Eckhart had a terrible track record: animal cruelty charges and inhumane conditions for hundreds of breeding dogs.

There were many reports of him perpetrated consumer fraud too, selling sick dogs and lying about puppies' breeding.

A Morning Call investigation used DNA evidence to determine Eckhart was selling dogs advertised as a one breed but they were in fact a different breed.

Well over a year ago, I asked chief deputy district attorney Jay Jenkins about the reports of Eckhart continuing to sell and breed animals. He told me that it was a matter for his probation officer, who did not return my calls seeking comment.

Dd probation officers ever visit his 4-acre property? Surely he couldn't have hidden all these animals from view.

With 21 dogs on the property, Eckhart just sneaked under the 25 dog threshold for requiring a kennel license. But surely the Dog Law Enforcement office could have paid him regular visits to ensure his dogs were licensed and had rabies shots.

At his 2010 sentencing Eckhart cried and pleaded for mercy, the Call notes, he said that his love for animals had gotten out of control and promised to obey the law.

"I have learned my lesson," he said in court that day. "My business is gone. My way of life is gone."

In the past three years, apparently, he was working to restore that so-called life.