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Former dog warden who was the subject of probe fired

The former state dog warden in charge of the counties where two large kennel raids and a mass shooting occurred in the last year - and the subject of a lengthy investigation - has been fired from the Department of Agriculture.

The former state dog warden in charge of the counties where two large kennel raids and a mass shooting occurred in the last year - and the subject of a lengthy investigation - has been fired from the Department of Agriculture.

Richard Martrich, who spent 12 years with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement before being transferred to another office in the Department of Agriculture, was terminated Thursday, said an agency official.

Agriculture spokesman Chris Ryder said he could not comment on the reasons for Martrich's firing or the contents of the Inspector General's report that apparently led to the termination.

Martrich was dog warden supervisor for the southeast region when humane agents raided Almost Heaven Kennel in Lehigh County last October, shortly before he was transferred to an office that handles gas pump inspections. At the time he was the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

The raid by the Pennsylvania SPCA exposed horrendous conditions inside Almost Heaven Kennel where as many as 800 animals were living in filthy, crowded cages and kennels. Dogs, and other animals were crammed into a number of outbuildings and every room in a foul-smelling house where dead puppies were stashed in a refrigerator. The raid led to the revocation of the kennel license and animal cruelty charges that are still pending against owner Derbe Eckhart.

Between 2003 and August 2007 either Martrich or one of his employees gave Eckhart passing inspections. Eckhart was not cited for any violations until the day of the PSPCA raid.

Martrich was removed from active kennel inspection duty last July after a raid on a Chester County kennel revealed widespread abuse and poor conditions. The PSPCA raid at Limestone Kennel in Cochranville led to the seizure of 103 dogs, many sick or injured.

Martrich and dog warden Maureen Siddons found no unsatisfactory conditions when they inspected Limestone Kennel in January. In an e-mail letter to Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, after the raid, PSPCA chief executive officer Howard Nelson wrote that the conditions his agents found "could not have gone unnoticed by even the most untrained or uncaring professional."

Martrich made $40,600 supervising six wardens in the region that included all Philadelphia-area counties.

Martrich also supervised wardens in Berks County where a breeder last August shot 80 dogs after he was ordered to provide veterinary care for flea bites.

Animal welfare advocates have long complained about a lack of oversight on kennel inspections because wardens are the only individuals with authority to enter without a search warrant.

Bill Smith, executive director of Main Line Animal Rescue, took in hundreds of dogs given up by Eckhart over several years, most of whom had severe health problems or injuries, including broken backs. Smith first raised the issue of inspections with bureau authorities in 2005 because he could not believe a warden would not have noticed so many animals in distress.

"I couldn't get anyone to listen to us," said Smith. "The dogs suffered for so long."