State Rejects License Application, Issues Order Against Almost Heaven Kennel

New developments in the ongoing saga of Almost Heaven kennel in Lehigh County where agents last October found some 800 animals living in squalor.

The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement today rejected the 2009 kennel license application submitted by former kennel operator Derbe "Skip" Eckhart and issued a cease and desist order to April Welter, Eckart's former assistant, who records show is now the owner and  is operating illegally without a state kennel license.

Eckhart and Welter have ten days to appeal and if no appeal is filed, the state will seize the remaining animals, said Chris Ryder, spokesman for the bureau.

Ryder said the bureau was able to collect enough evidence through kennel records seized last week to conclude that Welter was now the kennel operator. Earlier this month a Web site for T.A.S kennel popped up advertising itself as the former "Almost Heaven" kennel and offering dogs for sale.

At the time of the October raid on the Emmaus kennel, agents saw scores of dogs crowded in undersized pens and standing in piles of waste. They seized 60 seriously injured and diseased dogs and charged Eckhart with multiple counts of animal cruelty. They also found horses, monkeys, Guinea pigs and birds. It was unclear today how many animals remain on the property.

Eckhart's hearing on the cruelty charges began on Tuesday in the Lehigh County Courthouse with graphic testimony from PSPCA investigations chief George Bengal, who led the raid, and Rachel Lee, the PSPCA's forensic veterinarian. The hearing ended before a number of witnesses on both sides were able to testify and it was continued to an unspecified later date. Click here for the Morning Call article on the hearing.

Also this week, the Morning Call ran an innovative investigative piece using DNA evidence to show that Almost Heaven routinely sold dogs who were in fact different breeds then the one advertised. The tests confirmed what a former employee had told reporters about the kennel's practice of tricking buyers by misrepresenting the breeds of dogs they sold.