An appeal has been filed in the Lower Oxford animal cruelty case, putting an end to any hope that the 333 dogs that were confiscated due to unsanitary conditions will be put up for adoption quickly.
In fact, they could be looking at years of living in cages at the Chester County SPCA and other rescue organizations while the case is appealed through the layers of the criminal justice system.
"We expected they were going to appeal. Unfortunately, it leaves the animals in a very difficult place," said Chuck McDevitt, spokesman for the SPCA. "They could have appealed and said go ahead and place the animals in homes."
It's been almost four months since 333 dogs, three cats and two birds were removed from a kennel, owned by Michael Wolf in Lower Oxford, where they were living in filthy conditions.
Many of the seized animals were suffering from skin, ear and eye infections. Some had broken bones or malformed limbs - evidence of previous injuries that had not received medical attention.
During the two-day hearing before Magisterial District Judge Harry W. Farmer Jr. in April, witnesses testified of conditions they found in three houses on the site in the 1700 block of Baltimore Pike.
Amid an overpowering stench, animals roamed on feces-strewn floors or were housed in stacked cages.
Farmer, who issued his decision April 28, gave permanent custody of the animals to the SPCA.
The judge fined Wolf more than $118,000 and he was convicted of 337 counts of cruelty to animals, one count of operating a kennel without a license, 200 counts of possessing an unlicensed dog and other related charges. He is also prohibited from owning an animal for 83 years.
Margaret Hills, a caretaker at the kennel, was fined more than $83,000, and convicted of 269 counts of animal cruelty. She may not own an animal for 66 years.
Gordon Trottier, who raised papillons at the kennel, was fined more than $25,000 and found guilty of 65 counts of animal cruelty. He is prohibited from owning any animals for 16 years.
An appeal of the decision was filed May 11 with the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
"We think the judge made mistakes," said Eric Coates, Wolf's attorney.
It could take from two to six months for a trial in the Court of Common Pleas, said court personnel. Depending on the outcome, the case could theoretically be appealed to state Superior Court and the state Supreme Court, a process that typically entails years.
During this time, the animals are in legal limbo and the SPCA and other animal rescue organizations that are caring for the animals must continue their upkeep.
McDevitt said the SPCA is currently caring for about 180 of the animals and the cost to date including legal fees is $160,000. The figure does not include how much it is costing other animal rescue organizations that are caring for the remaining 153 animals.
"It's a tremendous strain on our staff and resources," said McDevitt, particularly at this time of year when the shelter gets a lot of cat and kitten surrenders.
Spring and summer is the natural breeding time for cats and the animal population at the shelter swells.
Asked whether the resources of the SPCA could be stretched so thin that they may consider striking a deal with Wolf, McDevitt said, "I don't know. I guess that could be a possibility."
Wolf had made an offer before the case went to court but "it was not even close," said McDevitt.