Monroe Co. dog breeder faces 200 charges, including animal cruelty

A Monroe County show dog breeder is facing more than 200 charges, including animal cruelty and scores of dog law violations, for operating an illegal kennel and keeping dozens of dogs and horses in inhumane conditions.

An official with the Pennsylvania SPCA says as many as 220 charges were to be filed against Julie Forsyth and an associate, Dan Sweeny, after five sick dogs, including a pregnant chihuahua, and a miniature horse were seized from her Anamolink property, but that authorities were working to consolidate the charges.

"They were in bad health," said PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano. She said the horse was skeletal and the chihuahuas were being kept outdoors in filth and flooded kennels.

The chihuahua gave birth to three puppies while in foster care, but only two survived, Marano said.

According to court dockets posted online yesterday, Forsyth and Sweeny have so far been charged with two counts of animal cruelty each.

But animal advocates want to know why Forsyth, who operated Fortora Farms Kennel, was not charged and her kennel shut down 14 months ago when dog wardens first inspected her property and issued a cease and desist order.

According to emails obtained through a Right to Know request by Main Line Animal Rescue, the dog law special deputy secretary, Jessie Smith, had issued a cease and desist order in May 2011, after wardens found 39 dogs on the property, water bowls filled with algae, a lot of debris and inadequate shelter.

An email from now acting dog law office director, Michael Pechart, said "it sounds like a bad operation out there."

At the time Smith said Forsyth could purchase a kennel license and comply with state regulations or reduce the number of dogs to below 26, the threshold for a obtaining a kennel license.

Smith, in emails, said Forsyth chose to downsize. Another email indicates that dog warden Ellen Howarth was planning to transport several dozen dogs, including litters of puppies to safety and was going to call a humane officer to investigate for cruelty.

But apparently no action was taken until June 2012 - 13 months later.

At the time the cease and desist order was issued, the Department of Agriculture was in a state of upheaval with the appointment of a new Agriculture Secretary in the Corbett administration. Smith was fired, bureau director Sue West was transferred and a new dog law director, Lynn Diehl took over. (Diehl last week was transferred to the Department of Corrections after protests over her failure to enforce the dog law.)

Meanwhile, Forsyth, a prominent American Kennel Club breeder who exhibited at major competitions in the northeast, continued to sell dogs - among them chihuahuas, Yorkies, Basenjis, miniature Australian Shepherds and racing greyhounds - from her Monroe County kennel.

A new tip was brought by Pet Watch NJ in March after Forsyth's Pennsylvania phone number turned up on ads listing her at various locations in New Jersey and New York. It was another three months before dog wardens and humane officers moved to close the kennel.

The Dog Law Enforcement Office did not respond to a request for comment.

"Based on what I've seen we know enforcement was not taking place 18 months ago," said dog law advisory board member Tom Hickey. "It appears no one did anything." 

Humane officers with the PSPCA obtained a search warrant and on July 17 removed five of the most severely ill animals, said PSPCA's Marano, who added her group was filing a total of nine cruelty charges in the case.

At the time Forsyth had 54 dogs and 20 miniature horses on the property, she said.

Marano said although Forsyth still has 39 animals on the property, several inspections that have taken place indicate deficiencies have been addressed.

Marano said Forsyth has also applied for a kennel license. An individual is forbidden from obtaining a kennel license if they have been convicted of animal cruelty.

Libby Williams, founder of Pet Watch NJ, warns potential puppy purchasers to avoid online sellers.

The large puppy sales websites, like Puppyfind, Greenfield Puppies, Sunnyside and Lancaster Puppies, are clearinghouses for many bad operators who change their names, advertise under fictitious names and towns and claim to be AKC "hobby" breeders when in fact they are puppy mills, she said.

'If it sounds too good to be true it's probably a scam," Williams said. "If you see something that doesn't sound on the up and up, report them."

The state dog law tip line is 1-877-364-8471. To report animal cruelty call the Pennsylvania SPCA hotline at 1-866-601-SPCA.