My name is Joe Fenstermacher; I am a Township Supervisor in Honey Brook Township which has in the not too distant past had an infamous notoriety and does not have a good history as far as one dog kennel was concerned. It did make local and national news.
With that in mind I took particular interest in recent events concerning a grievance procedure between the SPCA and a well-respected Amish kennel in our Township. The Township does have a recently revised dog kennel ordinance. The Township also maintains a contract with the SPCA. As Supervisor I have worked with the DPW, the EPA, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and in every instance when a citation is issued a plan of correction is submitted for approval and then the proper corrections are made. This works well in being able to professionally resolve any and or all issues which need addressing. As I became further involved in this particular incident I found that the SPCA and state wardens did not appear to be working along any semblance of nor type of professional guidelines.
Levi Kaufman owns a kennel with approximately 35 animals. Mr. Kaufman was cited for one count of not having documents readily available, and two counts of animal cruelty. At first blush this appeared to indicate that Chester County SPCA was in fact doing an excellent job because of the past reputation that they have. That assumption unfortunately turned out to be very far from the truth. A hearing was held at the local district court office because the State and the SPCA decided to prosecute Mr. Kaufman on these three charges. I attended the hearing and asked the SPCA, before the hearing began, if they would please talk to me as I had a lot of questions after the trial was over. They said that they absolutely would speak with me. Unfortunately, after the trial and their failure to win the judge’s favor, they unceremoniously flat out refused any give and take discussion in any form with me.
The facts that I am going to set forth and present were taken from actual testimony at the trial. But first I asked Levi why he, as a member of the Amish community, would actually go to court when normally the Amish simply turn the other cheek and allow things to fall as they will. Levi explained to me that if convicted of cruelty to animal charges he would basically be out of business. He also felt that the charges were disproportionate to reality and in no way fit the facts. He felt that this warranted going to court and was the only avenue for himself. He stated he was also doing this for the sake of any others that might be falsely accused, feeling his was a socially responsible “obligation”. During this case the state game warden, Matt Allwein, stated that in September 2012 he (accompanied by state warden Travis Hess and state veterinarian Daniele Ward) visited the Levi Kaufman kennels. Matt Allwein asked Mr. Kaufman for copies of the February veterinarians report (Levi, in accordance with state law, has every animal on his property checked by a state licensed veterinarian twice a year.) These reports had been previously given to Mr. Allwein in February during a state visit at that time. Levi could not locate the paperwork instantly and asked Mr. Allwein if he could give the papers to him later that day, simply a matter of hours later. Mr. Allwein stated that it was already too late and Levi was at that point in violation. The state veterinarian Daniele Ward asked Levi if he would retrieve those dogs that had been having dental problems as had been indicated in the February report. Evidently the State had already reviewed the reports that Levi had given them in February and had them in their possession. Levi complied and there was one animal whose name is Margie who did need some dental work on her teeth. The dental work, as outlined in the February report, had been successfully taken care of. The investigators at this time thought more was needed. Levi showed the state representatives the vet checkup which had occurred less than four days earlier. In that report the Vet had indicated that more tooth work was needed but it could and should wait with no suffering or discomfort to the animal. He also indicated the work was not imperative or urgent and the dog’s pregnancy and concern for the puppies which were soon to come far outweighed the dental needs of the dog. Then after the puppies were born the tooth work could be completed. (Anesthesia was needed for the dogs comfort during the work on the teeth. Anesthesia has a severe effect on pregnant dogs and their pups). On a second issue there was a dog which had what appeared to be a lesion on its eye. Levi showed the state representatives a report from Veterinarian Willard Stoltzfus who had checked this very dog three days earlier. At that time there was no lesion. Levi showed them the report and also the fact that he had checked the dog the next day and there was no lesion at that time either. Whatever happened must have happened in a very short period of time. Two veterinarians agreed at the hearing under cross examination that this was something that could happen in a very short period of time. Perhaps immediately if the dog had clawed his eye or had been playing with another dog and was accidentally injured or any number of scenarios could have caused this sore to suddenly appear. The state representatives, dog wardens Matt Allwein and Travis Hess and state veterinarian Daniele Ward then left the property.
Approximately seven days later Mr. Kaufman received a citation from the state for not having his paperwork immediately available, even though the state had previously been given that paperwork and had it in their possession. Also two counts of animal cruelty from the local SPCA who was not represented during this visit to Mr. Kauffman’s kennels. These enforcement actions were taken even though his personal veterinarian had checked those animals just days before this incident.
After a three hour trial the judge ruled against Levi for not having the paperwork available and fined him $119. As to the other much more serious counts, the judge found that a veterinarian had looked at both animals 72 hours before the state representatives arrived. In the case of the eye it could have happened that very day however was not apparent during the vets visit and it was unreasonable to find Levi Kaufman guilty of animal cruelty. It was basically the same scenario in the case of the teeth. The Vet again having examined that animal 72 hours before the state visit had determined that it was in the animal’s best interest to wait until after the animal had delivered her pups to have the dental work done. The judge found Levi not guilty of the animal cruelty charges in that case also.
Now you folks reading this can form your own beliefs and opinions concerning this. The actions of the people our taxes and donations pay for, the state wardens and the SPCA, in my opinion, were very unprofessional. We all love and would give our own lives to save our animals in many instances. Any allegations of animal cruelty is immediately followed with intense negative emotion even hatred towards the perpetrators. Investigators should be very mindful of that fact. As I stated previously the norm for a citation is to review a recipient plan of correction and to work with the dog kennel owner to come up with a mutually acceptable resolution. If and when the problem should continue, then and only then, punitive action should be taken. It seems pretty obvious to me in this particular instance that the SPCA at the behest of the state acted in a manner that was hypercritical and, furthermore likely sparked due to the location of the imagined violations and not on the merits of the case.
As one of three supervisors in my Township I feel duty bound and obligated to try to help any Township resident whenever it is needed. In this particular instance I was asked to speak to the honesty of Levi Kaufman in court. I did validate and verify the honesty of Mr. Levi Kaufman based on my own interactions with him over the years and also his good standing in the Amish community. I applaud the overarching ideas of the SPCA however certainly, to charge someone with something as bad and vile as cruelty to animals, puppies no less, without first investigating or seeing the animals is sidestepping the very spirit of their charter. Is there anyone reading this who would want to be put into Levi’s shoes? Levi has been in business for 14+ years. He has had surprise inspections annually without fail at nonspecific times during those 14 years and has never had one single citation issued against his business. Unfortunately all citations are listed on the Internet and a good deal of Levi’s business is Internet introductions and sales of puppies. Though proven to be false the un-retracted Internet accusations alone will do damage to the viability of a hard working member of our community. These recent actions of both the State Warden and the Chester County SPCA show a callous lack of concern for and countermand professional behavior in the discharge of their responsibilities in my opinion. The proven professional process was not followed but was superseded by a rush to judgment.
This member of our community has every reason to keep his pups in very good health. Why would he allow his puppies to go bad like so much fruit? Aside from loving the little ones, it is to the puppies and the owner’s best interest to keep them in A1 shape (no one buys bananas covered with bruises).
Look, on one hand if your goal is to shut down businesses that love raising puppies (Levi has seven children involved in the attentive care of the kennels residents and their interaction with the dogs is a joy to watch) offer them alternatives first, if they don’t comply, then tell them your overall intent is to do their business harm by sullying their reputation. I know the last part of the previous sentence sounds a bit sarcastic but I find it hard to come to any other conclusion given the facts and I am not overly aggressive in promoting sarcasm at anyone’s expense.
I whole heartedly want to believe the SPCA and state warden’s actions were more a huge mistake or even poor judgment on the part of those involved. I do not want to believe this whole exercise was an easy pick primarily initiated because of the infamy of the location. If the latter is true there is an immediate need for oversight by state and local agencies such as the D.A.’s office. In fact oversight would be a good idea period.
Honey Brook Township supervisor
Email - QSLSA@yahoo.com