Probes underscore need for strong kennel laws

UPDATE: Anyone interested in the history of so-called "random source" dealers who used to exist by the hundreds decades ago until it became apparent that many were stealing family pets to sell for medical research, must read the compelling five-part series in Slate published in 2009. In the articles, the author Daniel Engber, explains how the disappearance of a family pet named Pepper in Pennsylvania in 1965 led to changes in federal law that drove down the numbers of random source dealers to the handful that exist today. Also according to Animal Welfare Institute there are only eight dealers left in the country and of those five - including the Martins of Pennsylvania - are under investigation.

As the battle over a House resolution to study the economic impact of the dog law rages in Harrisburg, two major investigations elsewhere in the state underscore the need for vigilance monitoring thousands of kennels operating legally and illegally in Pennsylvania.

In Shippensburg, west of Harrisburg, a couple stands accused on federal charges of illegally acquiring hundreds of dogs and fraudulently re-selling the animals to medical research facilities.

U.S. Attorney Peter Smith on Wednesday announced the unsealing of an indictment against Floyd and Susan Martin, who did business as Chestnut Grove Kennel. The indictment, which comes after a two-year long investigation, charges the Martins with conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, mail fraud and making false statements to a government agency.

Smith said the operators attempted to get around federal regulations which place limitations on the number of allowable dog sales by stealing the identities of several individuals and falsifying federal documents.

The kennel, which sold more than 400 dogs last year, is licensed both by the state and U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is the only "B" or "random source" dealer left in Pennsylvania - a class of license that has come under scrutiny here as a license to gather strays, breeder rejects to sell for medical and other research. There were only ten such facilities operating when a federal bill was introduced in 2009 to ban them, but it failed. 

The Martins were ordered by a dog warden in March to get veterinary exams for four dogs for unspecified health reasons and they complied, according to the report. They were cited by federal inspectors last year for having rusty wire pens and having expired medicine. Violations notices issued in 2009, such as buying 29 dogs from an individual who was not licensed, suggest the basis for the investigation.

In a 2007 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Susan Martin said her business was exemplary and opposed the act as "discriminatory."

Martin said she and her husband buy from people they trust, most of them hunters who breed their own animals. She declined to say how much the kennel earns.

"It would take away our livelihood," she said. "We may have to sell our farm." Now the Martins may be going to jail for up to 50 years and face a fine of up to $1 million.

Meanwhile, in western Pennsylvania an American Kennel Club Great Dane breeder has been arrested on animal cruelty charges after authorities found nine starving dogs - one of them chained to a wall - and three dead dogs in a house. 

Police said charges were pending against the owner of a property in Kittanning in Armstrong County after they responded to a 911 call and found the emaciated dogs living in filth. Graphic images here show the dogs were walking skeletons at the time they were found.

The Tribune-Review reports the property owners were identified as Thomas and Barbara Grey. Barbara Grey operated an unlicensed kennel, Grey Castle Danes, at that address. Grey advertised as selling American Kennel Club registered puppies.

The American Kennel Club has urged its members to write lawmakers in support of the legislative study - which many animal welfare advocates contend is an attempt to undo or weaken the 2008 dog law.

Some may ask: Where is AKC in policing its own?


(Read the indictment document here - PDF format)