HARRISBURG - A Lehigh County kennel owner was charged yesterday with animal cruelty and his state kennel license was revoked after SPCA agents raided his property and found hundreds of animals living in squalor.

The two counts of cruelty group together hundreds of charges Derbe Eckhart faces for failing to provide veterinary care and for poor sanitation involving as many as 1,000 animals, according to Pennsylvania SPCA officials who conducted the raid Wednesday.

When agents entered Almost Heaven Kennel in Emmaus on Wednesday, they found 800 to 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, horses, guinea pigs and fowl, crammed cheek by jowl on the small suburban property

Agents seized 56 sick and wounded animals - 46 dogs, nine cats and a guinea pig - in need of immediate veterinary care.

While they were unable to release details of the agreement regarding the fate of the rest of the animals, PSPCA officials said they were pleased with the results.

"Our priority was to protect the animals," said Howard Nelson, president of the Philadelphia-based PSPCA.

Nelson said agents returned to the property last night to remove more dogs and that negotiations were under way over the disposition of a number of additional animals.

Eckhart's arraignment in district court is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Efforts to reach Eckhart or his lawyer yesterday were unsuccessful.

But in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Eckhart disputed the PSPCA's allegations, citing his clean inspection report in August.

"What they tried to do yesterday was paint a picture that wasn't there," he said.

In an unusually swift action, the state Department of Agriculture revoked Eckhart's kennel license yesterday, which means he can no longer keep more than 25 dogs on his property.

Eckhart has 10 days to appeal the license revocation, officials said.

State officials say they are investigating the circumstances surrounding the August inspection when a team of three dog wardens, plus Bureau Director Sue West, found no violations.

The agents who raided the property said conditions in a house and numerous rundown outbuildings were deplorable: overcrowded cages, dogs covered in their own waste, animals suffering from a range of maladies including dehydration, skin conditions, infections and wounds.

"We are looking into the situation and investigating what happened then and how it got from August to where it is now," department spokesman Chris Ryder said.

Eckhart had operated a kennel for at least 20 years and during that time was twice convicted of animal cruelty. In 1988, when he was living in Carbon County, humane officers seized 48 starving dogs and cats in what was described as the worst cruelty case in that county history, according to published reports.

In 2004, Eckhart was banned for life by the American Kennel Club for fraudulently misrepresenting dogs that he sold as being AKC registered.

Meanwhile, Nelson said that dogs were expected to be ready for adoption this week after receiving medical care and grooming.

"They were miserable and could hardly move when they got here," said Nelson. "Once we got out the mats and got the hair out of their infected eyes, they were doing much better."


For information on adopting any of the animals removed from the kennel, contact Ray Little, PSPCA adoption coordinator at 215-426-6300 or rlittle@pspca.org.

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.