Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Flight to Ohio rescues 'puppy-mill' dogs

By Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer

When a Philadelphia animal-welfare activist heard that nearly 400 Lancaster County dogs had been trucked to an auction in Ohio last month, he saw it as a chance to call attention to animal abuse in Pennsylvania.

But because the dogs had crossed state lines, time was working against efforts to file cruelty charges.

So Bill Smith rounded up a private jet and flew off to the Farmerstown Sale Barn in Baltic, a rural village in eastern Ohio.

After combing the auction on Oct. 7, Smith and his group, including Pennsylvania SPCA agents and veterinarians, bought 12 Lancaster County dogs that they plan to use to show that abuse still existed at some kennels a year after passage of a tougher dog law.

When the group returned to Pennsylvania hours after the purchase, state SPCA officials prepared charges against six of the 12 Lancaster County breeders who sent dogs to the auction.

"The dogs were in absolutely deplorable conditions," said William Lamb, whose West Chester law firm will represent the state SPCA. "Based on the state of neglect of the animals, criminal charges were filed."

Pennsylvania kennel owners ship unwanted breeding dogs to Ohio to be sold - usually to other breeders - because auctions are illegal in the commonwealth. The Ohio auction, believed to be the first in that state of solely Pennsylvania dogs, was held two days before the major provisions of the stringent new dog law that Gov. Rendell signed in 2008 went into effect Oct. 9.

The law requires breeders to double the size of the individual cages for dogs. It also bans cage stacking and paw-damaging wire floors. Outdoor exercise is mandated and breeding dogs must be checked by a veterinarian twice a year.

The SPCA attorneys believe the breeders likely used the auction to reduce the number of dogs in their possession before the new law took effect, said Scot Withers, a law partner of Lamb's.

Attempts to reach Walter Peechatka, lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Professional Dog Breeders Association, were unsuccessful.

The dogs obtained in Ohio ranged in price from $200 to $650 and were picked out by veterinarian Cari Thomson of Schwenksville. She identified them as suffering from chronic disease and neglect, such as advanced periodontal disease and skin and eye conditions.

After the purchases, the group got back on the jet, which had been arranged through a Main Line Animal Rescue board member, for the 45-minute flight back to the Chester County Airport with the dogs.

They were whisked to SPCA headquarters in Philadelphia, where the animals were examined and documented - all within two hours of leaving Ohio.

Withers said time was of the essence.

"We got the evidence in another state and we had to establish the animals were in this condition at the time the people being charged were in possession of them," he said. "Otherwise, it allows a defendant to say, 'This happened after the dog left my hands.' "

For six years, Smith has fought against conditions in large commercial breeding facilities known as "puppy mills." He also has rehabilitated rescued breeding dogs.

"We knew we couldn't stop the auction, but it was a way to get abused dogs out of their kennels so owners could be prosecuted," Smith said.

Tracking identification tags attached to the dogs' cages and the animals, the Pennsylvania SPCA filed animal-cruelty charges against these kennel owners: Loren Nolt of East Earl, James Zimmerman of Ephrata, Nathan Myer of Lititz, Ella Mae Zimmerman of New Holland, Steve Stoltzfus of Gap, and John S. Fisher of Gordonville.

Their cases will be heard at various district justice offices in Lancaster County.

Reached by phone yesterday, Nolt said: "I have no comment on that."

Nolt sent 41 of the approximately 700 dogs reported in his kennel in July to the auction. The SPCA bought one of his bichons at the auction, based on what veterinarians on the trip believed were intentionally broken teeth.

The dog underwent extensive dental surgery this week.

Other breeders did not return calls seeking comment.

If convicted of the summary offenses, breeders would be subject to up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $750. Regardless of the court penalty, conviction would provide grounds for revoking kennel licenses, Smith said.

"If we get one conviction, that person can't have a license in Pennsylvania for 10 years, and that could help hundreds of dogs in their kennel," Smith said, adding that he hoped the cases sent a message to other commercial breeders to take better care of animals.

Dogs at the Ohio auction sold for as little as $1 to more than a $1,000 for breeds that produce high-price puppies, such as English bulldogs and Bernese mountain dogs, said Mary O'Connor-Shaver, an Ohio activist who is leading a ballot-referendum effort to ban auctions in that state.

Calls to the Farmerstown auction house were not returned.

Lori Caball, a surgeon with Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Norristown, which has treated hundreds of puppy-mill dogs, lamented what she sees as the "dispensable nature" of breeding dogs that produce puppies sold in pet stores.

"It's the product - the puppies - that they are after, so they don't spend money on health maintenance," Caball said


Dog Rescuer said...

And I had someone comment to me that the Puppy Mill Auction they are speaking of in this article was not that bad.. really?? Hmm this is the 2nd artcile on how the dogs were in horrible condition...

There has been a total of 3 dogs auctions in the last 2 months... Oct 7, Oct 31, Nov 21.

When will the suffering end?

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