Plea deal in puppy mill raid

EMMAUS, Pa. - October 2, 2008 Animal cruelty officers brought more than 50 dogs and other animals to the Hunting Park facility early Thursday morning.

SPCA agents raided the "Almost Heaven" kennel, saying what they found was a living hell for hundreds of animals.

Kennel owner Derbe Eckhart is charged with keeping the animals in unsanitary confinement with lack of veterinary care.

Officer Wayne Smith of the Philadelphia SPCA tells Action News, "It was dogs, cats, guinea pigs, turkeys, geese, horses, miniature ponies, monkeys... Yea, he has a large amount of animals in there."

Smith added, "Most of the animals are covered in feces and urine. The kennels are covered in feces and urine, some animals have hair missing."

Agents removed 43 dogs, 9 cats and a guinea pig. It's shaping up to be the largest crackdown on a single operation in state history.

Annette Brown came to the kennel Thursday looking for a refund for the puppy she bought two days ago.

Her vet found numerous problems.

"He said it was very undernourished," Brown said. "It has a skin infection, it has worms."

Agents say they found puppies and other animals, including monkeys, covered in feces in crowded cages without food or water.

Elaine Skypala of the SPCA said, "There were probably 700 animals we could write citations for. So, we're talking a lot of animals that are not being cared for."

They also found 65 dead animals in a freezer.

"To know that he has dead animals in a freezer just makes me want to cry," said Kathleen Hollowpeter of Emmaus.

The investigation began weeks ago when customers reported they'd been sold sick puppies.

Just six weeks ago, the kennel got a clean bill of health from state inspectors.

"This really calls into question what kind of inspections were being done," said State Representative Doug Reichley (R-Lehigh County) "But, this particular location has been the focus of a lot of public concern over the years."

Eckhart faces a number of charges of animal cruelty, each of which carries a fine of up to $2,500.

The SPCA says it intends to put Eckhart out of business permanently.

Eckhart will have a prelminary hearing in two weeks.

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