The slaughter of 80 dogs at two Maxatawny kennels has drawn attention from animal lovers and activists alike from across the state.Three groups coordinated a candlelight vigil on Aug. 15 to pay tribute to the 80 dogs.
With a full moon overhead, more than 100 people from across the state walked along rows of corn on Route 222 to the edge of the Zimmerman property in Maxatawny Township. They placed 80 white chrysanthemum flowers on Elmer Zimmerman's tractor and 80 dog biscuits were laid at the lane of the killing.
Participants also read speeches and sang "Amazing Grace," paying tribute to the dogs.
North Penn Puppy Mill Watch in Lansdale, United Against Puppy Mills in Lacaster and MainLine Animal Rescue in Chester Springs coordinated the vigil "to recognize and remember the 80 dogs that were senselessly and needlessly killed on the Zimmerman Farm," said Helen Walton Ebersole, president and co-founder of UAPM.
"The vigil was peaceful, poignant and somber. These dogs were senselessly and needlessly killed. Mr. Zimmerman had other options than to kill all of his dogs. Those 80 dogs never knew a kind word, a gentle touch, a chance to exercise, run and play like dogs do," said Ebersole.
UAPM volunteer Amy Bitting, of Etters, noted that there were people from all surrounding areas who attended, including Elmer Zimmerman who arrived while people left.
The Patriot attempted to contact the Zimmermans without success.
"Some are animal advocates and some because they believe the killing of these dogs is brutal and unacceptable," said Bitting.
She said the vigil gave animal lovers and advocates a chance to say goodbye to the dogs.
"It was to make a statement that, as a community, we value the life of a dog and this is unacceptable," said Bitting. "It was to protest the fact that this is legal in Pennsylvania and proposed legislation needs to be passed to ensure those persons who do this will be held accountable. It was also to raise awareness of the suffering dogs and puppies endure day-in and day-out in puppy mills right in our backyards."
Bill Smith from Main Line Animal Rescue described the vigil as extremely sad.
"The dogs in their kennels never had a chance. They were born in those facilities, lived lives of deprivation and neglect, and then one night, were savagely killed," Smith said.
Maxatawny resident Berni Ward lives next door to the Zimmerman farm, and this is not the first time she was shocked by something the Zimmermans did.
In February, the Zimmermans made big headlines in newspapers for spreading sewage sludge on their fields, which they have since signed an agreement not to spread again.
"Our entire neighborhood is shocked. I was sick to my stomach when I heard about all the dogs that were shot next to us," said Ward. "How could anyone do this to innocent creatures? There was no reason whatsoever to do it. How can it be legal to do it?"
North Penn Puppy Mill Watch coordinator Jenny Stephens, of Landsdale, said people are flabbergasted.
"I believe there was such outrage not only for the animal rights groups but also dog lovers in general over the fact that someone could shoot 80 dogs," Stephens told The Patriot.
People are particularly outraged that this is legal in Pennsylvania.
"This certainly helped illustrate the need for this legislation," she said, referring to the proposed House Bill 2525, the Dog Law, which would make it illegal to kill dogs in the manner exhibited by the Zimmermans.
"This is driving home the point that as long as people continue to purchase puppies in pet shops, these commercial breeding facilities will continue to operate," she said.
The vigil, she said, was filled with emotion. There was not a dry eye among the more than 100 attendants, many of whom brought their four-legged friends.
"It allowed people to share their grief with other individuals who felt similarly," said Stephens.
Last year, about 84,000 dogs went into shelters, she said, noting that there is an abundance of animals who need homes. She recommended people adopt and rescue animals rather than buying them at pet shops that may be ill or mistreated.
All three groups - North Penn Puppy Mill Watch, United Against Puppy Mills, and MainLine Animal Rescue - encouraged the public to contact their state representative about HB 2525, the Dog Law. Visit www.legis.state.pa.us.
"We have a long road ahead of us and unfortunately, so do the dogs," said Stephens.