Pennsylvania: I’m not going to attempt to cover all the details of the case against Almost Heaven Kennels which resulted in the owner, Derbe “Skip” Eckhart, being sentenced to 6 to 23 months in jail on cruelty and related charges this year. Bill White of the Morning Call has been covering the story for years. I plucked some details from a couple of his columns to give you a taste of Almost Heaven.
A whistleblower who worked at the kennel for several years explained that Mr. Eckhart instructed her to sell puppies, no matter what she had to do to make the sale. She went along with this practice of lying to customers, knowing it was wrong, because she says she wanted to get as many dogs as possible “out of that hellhole”.
The scheme basically went like this: A customer would make an inquiry for a certain breed and/or age puppy and she would fill it, regardless of whether the kennel had the type of puppy requested. She would make up birthdates to make older pups seem younger, fabricate breeds to match the customer’s request, and then start writing in phony vaccination and deworming dates on a false veterinary record. The customer would plunk down the selling price (roughly $1000) and off they go with the exact puppy they were looking for. If any potential buyers attempted to perform due diligence and ask to see the parents of the puppy, she was prepared:
She said she would keep a fake mother and father dog cleaned up and available — friendly dogs she had obedience-trained — to show prospective buyers. “It was always a lie,” she said. “The whole thing was a lie.”
The rest of the 800 animals reportedly lived in appalling filth. Mr. Eckhart was ordered by the court at one point to stop accumulating dogs – an order he violated – and even tried changing the name of the kennel and listing his assistant as the owner on the website.
At trial, Mr. Eckhart’s attorney had an answer for everything. The kennels were filthy because authorities had locked Mr. Eckhart’s employees out during the raid, preventing them from cleaning. The dogs in the worst shape at the time of the seizure were rescues who had arrived only days before. Basically, Mr. Eckhart is a hero who just can’t say no to helping any dog in need. He’s guilty of having too big a heart.
They jury, on the other hand, found Mr. Eckhart guilty of cruelty and failure to comply with the cease and desist order. He began serving his sentence in May. On day four, Mr. Eckhart assaulted a prison guard. His lawyer has an explanation for that, too: His client was detoxing from all the prescription drugs he’d been taking. In fact, Mr. Eckhart doesn’t even remember what happened, seeing as he was in such a fog and all.
Now, after serving just a few months of his sentence, Mr. Eckhart wants out. He feels he should get probation, his sentence was too harsh, blah blah blah. The judge is set to make a ruling on the request in future. If denied, Mr. Eckhart will seek release on bail, pending an appeal of his conviction.
Mr. Eckhart’s attorney described him at trial thusly:
”He’s the last bastion of hope for animals that have nowhere to go.”
I’ll be interested to see if the judge decides to keep the Bastion in prison.
Thank you to Heather H. for alerting me to this story.