Problem kennel given last chance to clean up act

A problem-plagued Lancaster County kennel is getting one final chance to clean up its act.

A team of state officials descended on Turkey Hill kennel in East Earl Township on Friday after outcry over revelations that dog wardens performing inspections earlier this year were forced to wear respirators because of the ammonia stench.

Michael Pechart, executive secretary to Agriculture Secretary George Greig, said conditions had improved since March, but the kennel failed inspection again because of continued odor problems and a flooring issue.

Pechart, who oversees the newly-reorganized Office of Dog Law Enforcement, said Marlin Zimmerman was issued no citations but was told he must fix the problems within the next two to three weeks or the state would revoke his license.

"He has made tremendous efforts in the past month," said Pechart. "Nevertheless he had air flow problems."

Pechart, a dairy farmer, said a $150 air conditioner could solve the problem in the smaller of two kennels and properly positioned fans in the larger kennel would reduce the smell.

Veterinary exams were ordered within 72 hours on five dogs for what Pechart terms "minor issues," possible eye infections and swollen nipples. At the last inspection veterinary exams were ordered on 27 dogs.

Zimmerman also was ordered to replace screen flooring he put down over plastic-coated wire flooring to prevent the paws of small dogs from falling through. Pechart said the screen did not allow for waste to drop down into containers.

Zimmerman is not under the July 1 deadline, as most of the other remaining commercial kennels are, to install state board-approved temperature, ventilation and ammonia systems because he received a waiver until Oct. 2012.

On Friday Zimmerman had numerous fans running in two kennels - even inexplicably in the pasture where the large dogs are exercised - but they were positioned wrong to allow proper air flow, Pechart said. Neither had Zimmerman opened windows, he said.

Pechart was accompanied by newly-appointed director of dog law enforcement, Lynn Diehl, the agency's chief counsel John Howard , veterinarian Danielle Ward, dog warden supervisor Kristen Donmoyer and compliance specialist Matt Allwein.

Zimmerman is one of the largest commercial kennel operators remaining in the state. At the last inspection in March 344 dogs were reported on the property.

He has received ten citations by the state for sanitation violations in the past nine months and pleaded guilty to two of the charges in Lancaster County court. The other eight were dismissed by District Judge Rodney Hartman.

When wardens arrived in January they were overwhelmed by the stench and forced back to their vehicles to get respirators, the inspection report said.

Wardens observed a strong presence of ammonia emanating from the adult dog building upon entering the area where the dogs were being housed, this odor was so strong making it hard to breathe and causing our eyes to burn that wardens walked out and retrieved respirator masks from our vehicles so we could proceed with the inspection.

Wardens in January also reported dirt and feces-caked cages, rodent droppings, dirty feed bowls, frozen water bowls and rusty cages.

Zimmerman has operated a licensed kennel since 2003 and sells puppies to pet stores, including several in the Philadelphia area (Monster Pets and Playful Pets) and South Jersey (The Puppy Stop). (See complaints on Zimmerman's dogs from pet store customers here.)

As a licensed USDA breeder, Zimmerman's kennel also undergoes federal inspections.

With sales of nearly 600 puppies a year, Zimmerman's income from his dog breeding operation is easily in the six figures. 

Pechart said he accompanied the wardens on the inspection because he wanted to see the conditions for himself before taking any further action.

"We are treating this seriously," Pechart said. "We are not backing off."