Officials close Lehigh County kennel, seize 216 dogs
By Amy Worden
Inquirer Staff Writer
Animal welfare officials, acting under a new law, moved in today and shut down a Lehigh County dog breeding kennel with a history of abuse and filthy conditions.
Agents of the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and the Humane Society of the United States are removing 216 dogs from the Almost Heaven Kennel in Emmaus.
The noon-time seizure came after the Commonwealth Court rejected kennel owner Derbe Eckhart's emergency appeal of his license revocation. For more click here.
UPDATE -- Like a line up for Noah's Ark they came parading out of Almost Heaven Kennel, many tucked in the arms of rescuers. From Chihuahaus to Great Danes, from designer labradoodles to the latest hot dog breed: the Portuguese Water dog, made popular by the Obama family. Aerial video by WFMZ shows small dogs housed in rows of stacked cages, while larger dogs, who ran tails wagging to rescuers, were living in pens with chain link fencing and plastic kennels for housing.
A total of 216 dogs removed from the kennel this afternoon are resting tonight in temporary quarters at the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg. State Department of Agriculture spokesman Chris Ryder called me at about 6 p.m. to say the final count was 211 dogs only to call back 15 minutes later and revise the number to 216. Five more dogs were seized by agents who caught kennel owner Derbe Eckhart trying to hide dogs in his house.
Veterinary exams revealed some dogs had mange and others suffered from eye infections and other skin diseases, Ryder said. The dogs have been turned over to the Humane Society of the United States which will care for them until they can be put up for adoption. Donations may be sent to HSUS at www.hsus.org.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers from the Lehigh Valley lashed out at Eckhart and state agencies responsible for enforcing other areas of the law Eckhart is believe to have violated.
Four legislators issued a joint statement this afternoon applauding the actions by the Dept. of Agriculture, but said they were concerned that it had taken so long after the initial raid in October to close down the problem kennel.
"As many as five state and local agencies have had interactions with the Almost Heaven kennel site or its owner and operator, Derbe Eckhart," said Rep. Douglas Reichley, joined by Rep. Karen Beyer, Rep. Gary Day and Sen. Rob Wonderling. "It is incredible to us that more than six months after the largest dog kennel raid in Pennsylvania, the various agencies with jurisdiction did not do more to permanently close this facility."
The lawmakers said evidence of violations to consumer protection laws, non payment of state taxes and allegations of abuse to other animals, including monkeys, should have prompted action by other agencies.
The legislators wrote: "Over the past nine years, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has filed liens against Eckhart for his failure to pay approximately $90,000 in back state sales taxes. The department filed judgments against Eckhart, but has failed to take any action to recover the delinquent taxes on the grounds that Eckhart cannot pay the back taxes if his business is shut down. However, the department was not willing to disclose any payment history of the taxes which were owed.
The Office of Attorney General has also been notified of the possibility that Eckhart violated the Dog Purchaser Protection Act, known as the Puppy Lemon Law, by misrepresenting dogs' pedigrees and medical histories to purchasers. However, the attorney general has not received any evidence from a complainant about the conditions of the dogs purchased at Almost Heaven."
"In the future, oversight agencies must take quicker action to close down problem kennels," the lawmakers said. "We will not rest until all the animals at the Almost Heaven kennel are living in safer and more humane conditions.