The state has pulled the plug on two of Pennsylvania's most notorious puppy mill operators.
Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff recently upheld the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement's decision to deny a 2009 kennel license to Aaron Burkholder of Kutztown and Daniel Esh of Ronks.
The bureau refused the 2009 license applications of both ken kennels in February following a string of inspections revealed appalling conditions at the kennels.
"These kennels are being shut down because they have put profits above the welfare of the dogs," said Jessie Smith, the state's special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement. "The secretary's decision to uphold their license refusals will hopefully mean a quick and final resolution to the problems we've seen in these kennels."
Both kennels have until June 16 to appeal the secretary's decision to the Commonwealth Court, but must follow strict rules - they may not buy or breed dogs - and submit to unannounced inspections during that time. If no appeal is entered within 30 days, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement said it will ensure the kennel is closed and seize any dogs above the 25 allowed without a kennel license.
Burkholder, the owner of Burkholder Farm Kennel, racked up 66 violations of the dog law during 13 inspections in 2008 for lack of maintenance, sanitation, cage size and record keeping. Dog wardens reported small dogs - including visibly shaking Boston Terrier puppies - housed in calf hutches lying on cold, mud floors.
Other dogs were housed in a dilapidated trailer with fan casings attached to the sides that were used for exercise wheels. Wardens reported broken wire in the wheels and wire cage flooring so wide that dogs' legs were falling through. Other inspection reports showed dogs in cages with no water and feedbowls contaminated with dirt, mold and feces.
One warden reported it was so dark in an area of the barn that the only light came from the flash on his camera.
At his hearing, Burkholder's lawyer argued he was unfairly targeted because his kennel was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show on puppy mills which aired last spring. Wolff dismissed the argument, saying the evidence of non-compliance was overwhelming and the bureau had met its burden of proof for revoking the license.
Esh, who owns Scarlet-Maple Farm Kennel, received unsatisfactory inspections in 2007 and 2008 for maintenance, sanitation and the condition of dogs in the kennel. During his last inspection on March 26, Esh had 373 dogs. Esh has a long history of trouble with state and federal authorities. Here's an overview provided by Libby Williams of New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse: