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.

"Our goal was to get the dogs out as quickly as possible," said Chris Ryder, spokesman for Department of Agriculture, the dog bureau's parent agency.

Such an operation would not have been possible without a dog protection law passed in October.

"We wouldn't be here today if not for the new dog law," said Ryder. "All the ambiguity under the old law is gone. It's clear that it's the end of line for him."

The seized dogs are to be taken to the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg, where they are to be evaluated before being put up for adoption.

Twenty-five dogs will remain at the kennel because no license is needed for less than 26 animals. "Unfortunately we don't have the authority to remove those dogs," Ryder said. "As long as they are not abusing them, they can have 25."

A raid last year by the Pennsylvania SPCA exposed horrendous conditions inside Almost Heaven, here 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 Eckhart.