As master of Murder Hollow Bassets hound pack, Philadelphia resident Wendy Willard ran in tony rabbit and fox hunting circles. Her pack, formed in 1986, was listed among a select handful from Virginia hunt country and elsewhere in the prestigious Chronicle of the Horse, the bible of the horse and hound crowd. The kennel's Bassets won awards at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show.
Last week the Pennsylvania SPCA raided her farmhouse in the Schuylkill Valley Nature Preserve and found 23 dogs covered in feces and riddled with parasites, said George Bengal, the PSPCA's director of law enforcement.
"The kennel was a mess," he said.
Humane agents first went to the house on July 21 in response to neighbor complaints about noise and odor, said Bengal. Finding no one home, they left cards asking the property owner to contact them. When no one responded, an agent and two state dog wardens returned on July 27. Willard refused them entry and as they left the property she threw stones at the officers' vehicles, said Bengal.
They returned later that day with a search warrant and found dogs living in what Bengal described as unsanitary conditions and in need of veterinary care. Willard voluntarily surrendered 11 dogs and agreed to comply with certain conditions for keeping the rest, including inspections, he said.
"We could have charged her, but we didn't yet," said Bengal. "We could have seized the dogs, but she agreed to get medical care for the remaining dogs and spay or neuter eight of the 12 dogs" - the limit allowed under the city's decades old animal ordinance.
Since there were fewer than 26 dogs on the property (the number required for a state kennel license) there were no citations issued by the state, said Chris Ryder, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.
The dogs that were removed were placed with Basset hound rescue groups, the PSPCA said.
The PSPCA's executive director Sue Cosby said they did not initially release any information about the incident because they thought they could resolve the issue amicably with the owner.
"The officer heading the case really went out of her way to work with the owner in an effort to have the kennels cleaned up and the dogs cared for rather than file charges and take all of the dogs,'" said Cosby in an email.
Dog breeder list serves and hunting blogs were buzzing over the weekend with news of the raid. The chatter grew to a fever pitch today with pages of posts defending Willard and railing against the PSPCA for trampling on the rights of dog owners.