Jet-powered puppy mill case crashes before getting to court

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:


Animal Rescue founder Bill Smith and former
Pennsylvania SPCA board president Harrise Yaron
just before Christmas 2009 lost their gamble that
jetting dogs back from an Ohio dog auction would
produce evidence sufficient to prosecute six
Amish dog breeders.
Two days before a new Pennsylvania dog
law took effect, 12 Lancaster County breeders
either quit the business or significantly
downsized, sending dozens of dogs to an auction
in Baltic, Ohio.

“Animal activists around the country knew
the auction was coming,” related Lancaster
Sunday News associate editor Gil Smart. “At a
meeting in Harrisburg on September 30 with
officials from the Bureau of Dog Law and shelters
from across the state, Bill Smith demanded that
Pennsylvania officials take action.”
“But basically all [the state] did was
push the safe harbor program,” which allows
breeders to surrender sick dogs without penalty,
Smith told Smart.
“About 48 hours before the auction was to
take place,” Smart continued, “he called Harrise
Yaron,” a seven-year Pennsylvania SPCA board
member who had been board president since
November 2008. Yaron’s daughter, Old City art
gallery director Jennifer Yaron, helped to
ignite the opposition to “puppy mills” that
produced the new Pennsylvania legislation with a
July 2007 exhibition entitled “Puppies are
biodegradable.” The title was taken from
testimony by a Lancaster County breeder at a 2005
zoning hearing, when he was asked what became of
unsold dogs.
Yaron’s sister Jodi Goldberg is also a Pennsylvania SPCA board member.
“Main Line Animal Rescue didn’t have the
legal authority to file cruelty charges; the SPCA
does,” Smart continued. “So Bill Smith, with
the help of a Main Line Animal Rescue board
member, got a private jet to fly himself and a
forensic veterinarian to Ohio.”
The Pennsylvania SPCA meanwhile “went
out with our trucks, and drove all night to
purchase the dogs in the morning,” Yaron said.
The team bought 12 dogs whose condition they
believed showed possible violations of the
pre-2009 dog law, and flew them back to
Philadelphia so that their condition could be
promptly documented.
But Lancaster County District Attorney
Craig Stedman told Lancaster Intelligencer
Journal/New Era staff writer Cindy Stauffer that
the breeders’ dogs had been checked by a licensed
veterinarian before being sent to the Ohio sale.
Continued Stauffer, “The Pennsylvania SPCA filed
the charges without the approval of his office,
Stedman said.
After comparing notes about the evidence,
Stedman told Stauffer, “They decided to withdraw
the charges.”
Harrise Yaron resigned from the
Pennsylvania SPCA board on December 13, 2009,
four days after a regularly scheduled board
meeting, reported Philadelphia Daily News
columnist Stu Bykofsky. Yaron denied that her
exit was forced.
Bill Smith suggested to Stauffer that the
charges against the breeders might eventually be
refiled, but what agency he thought might do it
was unclear.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement
Jessie L. Smith acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE
that her agency opposed the attempt to prosecute
the breeders. “Our focus is on getting breeders
who are leaving the business to surrender their
dogs, so that we can help to find the dogs good
homes. If breeders think they are going to be
prosecuted if we get our hands on a dog, that
isn’t going to happen,” she said by telephone on
December 31, 2009.

No immunity

The Pennsylvania SPCA meanwhile may be
feeling more vulnerable to lawsuits from
aggrieved breeders, among others, after the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court on December 29, 2009
ruled unanimously that as a privately governed
charity, it cannot claim sovereign immunity from
legal action resulting from enforcing animal care
and control laws.
The case reaching the state supreme court
originated in January 1999, when a dozen dogs
including 11 pit bull terriers were seized from
an alleged abandoned house. A woman named Laila
Snead was arrested at the scene and was initially
charged with dogfighting. “Those charges were
dropped the following day, although she later
was convicted of a summary offense of animal
cruelty,” reported Associated Press Writer Mark
Scolford. Snead sued the Pennsylvania SPCA for
killing the dogs. A jury awarded her $155,000.
“On appeal, the state Superior Court
rejected the SPCA’s argument that it was immune
from being sued and granted Snead attorney’s
fees, but reversed the $100,000 punitive-damages
portion of the verdict. That lower-court
decision was upheld by the Supreme Court,”
Scolford summarized.

Can’t shoot pet

On December 30, 2009 the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court reversed a 2008 ruling by the state
Superior Court that pet keepers cannot be
prosecuted for killing their own animals. Wendy
Colleen Kneller, 37, of Weissport, in 2006
gave her boyfriend Randy Miller, 28, a handgun
and asked him to shoot a 6-year-old pit bull/chow
mix named Bouta, whom she said had bitten her
Miller tied Bouta and beat her with a
shovel before shooting her. Miller was
convicted of cruelty to animals and uttering
terroristic threats for allegedly threatening a
teenager who witnessed the killing. Kneller was
convicted of conspiracy to commit cruelty.
A three-judge Pennsylvania Superior Court
panel in February 2008 overturned the cruelty and
conspiracy convictions because state law allows
pet keepers to euthanize animals by gunshot.
Judge Susan Gantman dissented. A nine-judge
Superior Court panel then affirmed the ruling of
the three-judge panel, 8-1, with Judge Correale
F. Stevens dissenting.
Responded the state supreme court, “The
facts reveal no immediate need to kill the dog,
a directive by respondent [Kneller] to her
co-defendant [Miller] to kill the dog, and the
unquestionably malicious beating of the dogŠThese
facts provide sufficient evidence to support
respondent’s conviction…and should not have
been undone because of considerations of a dog
owner’s authority.”
Reported Scolford of Associated Press,
“The Supreme Court sent the case back to Superior
Court with directions for it to follow Stevens’

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