A hearing in the animal cruelty case whereby humane officers confiscated 338 animals reportedly living in unsanitary conditions in an unlicensed kennel in Lower Oxford opened in Oxford District Court Tuesday.
Magisterial District Justice Harry Farmer Jr. heard testimony from a police officer with the Chester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who was part of a Feb. 10 raid on the kennel.
Officers found 333 dogs, three cats and two birds reportedly living in filthy conditions in three buildings and on the grounds at the kennel located in the 1700 block of Baltimore Pike.
The judge also viewed a videotape taken in two of the buildings that reportedly showed animals standing in their waste in crates and walking amid feces-strewn floors.
Michael Wolf, who operated the kennel with Gordon Trottier, has been charged with 337 counts of animal cruelty for unsanitary conditions and 200 citations for having unlicensed dogs and 100 citations for dogs without a current rabies vaccination.
Trottier, who raised papillons and sold them on a Web site with Wolf, has been charged with 65 counts of animal cruelty for unsanitary conditions and 50 citations for unlicensed dogs and 50 citations for dogs without a current rabies vaccination.
Margaret Hills, a caretaker at the kennel, has been charged with 269 counts of animal cruelty for unsanitary conditions.
The defense team tried the morning of April 11 to suppress the two search warrants that were served Feb. 10.
State Dog Warden Maureen Siddons testified that, acting on a tip that the SPCA had received about a puppy living in filth at the kennel, she and SPCA Police Officer Cheryl Shaw visited Wolf's kennel Feb. 8.
Siddons said that when she entered one of the buildings, she was overwhelmed by the foul odor.
"My eyes were watering. Breathing was a problem. I had to leave three times in order to get my breath. There were feces all over the place," Siddons said.
That day Siddons said she counted 136 dogs, although Wolf said he only had 35. She gave Wolf a citation for an unlicensed kennel and giving false statements.
Shaw issued a notice of mandatory action requiring Wolf to clean up the premises, give the animals clean water and provide veterinary care including rabies vaccinations. The next day a vet vaccinated 100 dogs at the kennel. Wolf said he considered the notice of mandatory action an agreement between himself and the SPCA.
But Shaw was suspicious of Wolf and got a warrant to search the kennel Feb. 10.
The defense team argued that when Shaw requested the search warrant, she did not inform the judge that there was an agreement between the SPCA and Wolf.
After hearing testimony all morning on the motion to suppress the search warrants, Farmer ruled against the defense.
"They did tell me that they had been to the property Feb. 8 and it's the officers' prerogative to continue to investigate," Farmer said, supporting the prosecution.
In the afternoon, Assistant District Attorneys Lori Finnegan and Kate Wright presented testimony from veterinarians who have cared for the confiscated dogs.
Ravindra Murarka, a veterinarian with the Pennsylvania SPCA, said that it was caring for 63 of the animals.
"Almost every dog was emaciated, filthy and stained with feces and urine, the majority infested with fleas. Most of the dogs had skin problems. Some with respiratory conditions," Murarka said. Two puppies died and one dog died of pneumonia. He estimated that it cost the humane society $26,000 to care for the 63 animals since Feb. 11. He also testified that the condition of the animals was consistent with living in the dirty surroundings that he viewed on the videotape.
Two other veterinarians also testified about ear problems, intestinal parasites, lice and dry eye conditions, among other ailments.
Then Shaw returned to the stand. She testified that during the raid, some dogs were hidden. Six Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies were hidden in a closed plastic basket that had a large bag of dog food on it. Two English Bulldog puppies were hidden in a wicker basket with linens piled on top of it, Shaw said.
After Shaw's testimony, Farmer adjourned the hearing until April 21.
Eric Coates, one of the three attorneys representing Wolf, Trottier and Hills, said the case was "going about the way I expected it to be going."
"I feel good for Gordon and Michael, but I feel real good for Margaret," Coates said. "I don't think they have a good case for Margaret."
Coates offered an explanation for conditions at Wolf's kennel. Wolf, who at one time owned and handled prize-winning dogs, loved dogs, but he had too many of them, Coates said. "He did his best to take care of them."
Now, if convicted of the animal cruelty charges, Wolf, Trottier and Hills could be facing a fine of no less than $50 or more than $750, or imprisonment for no more than 90 days, or both, on each count.
Finnegan said she was going to ask for a fine and imprisonment if the judge finds them guilty. "I want to send a message," Finnegan said.
The SPCA has to care for the animals until the case has been adjudicated, although the humane society has been inundated with calls from people wanting to adopt them.
Coates said, "Michael has considered turning them over to rescue leagues but not to the SPCA."