Numerous issues were raised at Trial:
1. Were the seized dogs “suffering” from anything more serious
than matted coats? There was no evidence that any dog had sores, lesions,
parasites or other damage under the matted coats. Winkler and Deppen's
veterinarian testified that in years of examination he had never found
unusual health problems with their dogs.
2. Did the photographs of the dogs shown at trial include every
dog, or just a few in different poses? Were they even Winkler’s dogs? There
was evidence that the alleged chip numbers did not belong to any of
Winkler’s live dogs, but rather of dogs that had died. There were no
allegations that any specific dog was mistreated.
3. Were the photographs of the premises, fencing, walls, and runs
actually taken at the Winkler/Deppen kennel? The former owner of the
property, herself an AKC judge, testified that at least some were not.
4. Did the fact that all three wardens were previously employed
by HSUS have anything to do with these charges being brought?
5. Were the charges motivated by sexual harassment as charged by
Winkler? At least two other women (in unrelated matters) also alleged that
they had been harassed by the Warden. Was this retaliation for Ms.
Winkler’s refusal of his advances?
6. Were the seized Bichon Frise dogs placed and an adoption fee
charged without any need for correction to the so-called problems?
The Magistrate Judge was not an attorney. Such Magistrates typically deal
with violations of the Motor Vehicle Code, and minor instances of animal
cruelty—they do not normally preside over extensive trials. This trial
lasted three days; there were about twenty witnesses from both sides.
The Magistrate Judge dismissed all but 11 of the 60 charges, but found
Winkler guilty of five charges including animal cruelty. Deppen was found
guilty of four charges of animal cruelty; and both were found guilty of
operating a kennel without a license.
Under Pennsylvania law, findings by a Magistrate are not final; Winkler and
Deppen were automatically entitled to appeal and have a brand new trial in
the municipal Court. Upon the filing of the appeal, the Magistrate’s ruling
is voided—the law provides that the defendants are considered innocent and
that the Commonwealth must prove the guilt of the accused parties. Normal
rules of evidence apply.
Before the new trial could occur, the prosecutor offered to drop the cruelty
charges against both Winkler and Deppen if they would plead guilty to
operating without a license. Usually, such plea bargains are offered if the
prosecutor believes that there is not enough evidence of wrongdoing for a
conviction. Pennsylvania has a program called Accelerated Rehabilitative
Disposition—essentially probation before judgment. The defendants are given
a period of time—in this case 60 days—to correct the problems, and if no
other violation occurs, the charges are dismissed and the record expunged
(erased). There will be no record of any kind that Winkler or Deppen was
ever charged with cruelty.
Attorney Pat Reilly, who represented Winkler and Deppen, stated to me that
the Pennsylvania Trooper who filed the animal cruelty charges was pleased
with the result. She apparently believed that she was brought into the case
by the Warden, who failed to disclose all the facts. The prosecutor who
handled the case acknowledged “that he had learned that Winkler and Deppen
were not animal abusers.” Reilly stated “one of the photos is not even from
Mimi and Jim’s kennel. The photos show urine and feces to a minimal degree,
consistent with a kennel that is cleaned daily. The other charges are so de
minimis [minor] as to be ludicrous.”
In the Maryland case, local animal control officers seized two large dogs
from the owner’s kennel run, apparently because they had received a report
that the dogs were outside in the rain. The weather was clear and no rain
was forecast when the owner left in the morning; in any event, both dogs had
access to two large igloo-type dog houses. One of the officers, who has
publicly stated that all dogs should be spayed or neutered, took the
position that the igloos did not comply with the local ordinance
requirements for shelters. He seized both dogs and took them to the local
pound, and charged the owner with cruelty.
The owner immediately engaged legal counsel; nonetheless, she was required
to replace the shelters before the dogs were returned to her. Her attorney
notified the county attorney that she intended to vigorously defend herself,
and subpoenaed official documents. The charges were ultimately dropped
completely, and the local ordinance was amended to make it clear that
igloo-type shelters complied with the law. She incurred legal expenses and
costs to replace the shelters—and her dogs spent 3 days in the “shelter.” The
owner visited daily and on each visit had to insist that someone mop up
standing urine and scoop feces in the run.
Recently, Pack Master Wendy Willard, of the Murder Hollow Basset Pack in
Pennsylvania, was charged with 22 counts of animal cruelty, and after 14
months and a trial, all 22 counts were withdrawn (legal fees probably
exceeding $100,000). The basis for many of the charges was that the dogs
had untreated “cherry eye”—again, the wardens were not aware that the breed
has exposed eye haws. Or perhaps there is a more sinister
interpretation—the wardens were aware, but deliberately misrepresented the
facts to try to make a case for cruelty.
What can we learn from these cases? Most important, it can happen to you—or
to any of us. As a first line of defense, be sure you know what the law is
in your state or locality (generally, local law cannot require less than
state law, but it may be more stringent). Ask a local attorney to speak to
your group about the law. If an animal control officer or warden asks to go
through your kennel, ask for identification and determine if he has a
warrant or other authorization before you consent. Do not allow yourself to
be intimidated or threatened, and above all, do not give up your dogs
without first checking with an attorney. Be polite and non-confrontational,
but stand your ground.
Perhaps more importantly, recognize that the animal rights movement, and
especially PETA and HSUS, have embarked on a campaign to eliminate breeding,
and ultimately ownership of dogs in this country. They are attempting to
co-opt state and local animal authorities to further this agenda—placing
their people as animal control officers and wardens, enacting laws and
regulations that limit the number of dogs you can have, and filing baseless
charges against reputable dog breeders to discredit them and to create
situations causing embarrassment and expense. They often use coercion,
intimidation and threats to accomplish the surrender of the dogs—who are
then turned over to “rescue” organizations who typically rehome them for a
substantial fee and before a determination of guilt or innocence. Don’t let
it happen to you!
Sadly, the dog fancy often believes rumors and jumps to the conclusion that
being charged means being guilty, and condemns other fanciers without having
the facts. If fanciers turn on each other, they further the HSUS agenda. In
the Pennsylvania case, there was a public outcry against two people who were
ultimately found not guilty of anything except letting their kennel license
Have you ever gotten behind on your paperwork and let a license expire? Did
you ever skip cleaning the kennel yard for a day or two because you had the
stomach flu? Are your older dogs matted, even though they are clean and
healthy? Does your breed have a characteristic that an ignorant or
malicious warden could claim was an untreated medical condition? If the
answer is yes to even one of these questions, you could find yourself
accused of animal cruelty; charged with crimes; or threatened and
intimidated into giving up your dogs.
Fortunately, in the U.S. you are always deemed to be innocent until you are
proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be guilty. Give your fellow fanciers
the same benefit—learn all the facts before you draw a conclusion. If there
is a court proceeding, wait until it is over before you take any action or
make any statements.
The American Kennel Club, commendably, takes the position that everyone is
innocent until proven guilty. Although the standard AKC penalty for any
conviction involving cruelty to animals is a ten-year suspension, no penalty
is imposed until there is an actual criminal conviction. I do not disagree
that a judge, handler, or owner may be put on temporary referral until the
charges are proved or disproved.
In the cases discussed above, all the cruelty charges were
dismissed—however, dogs were seized (and some were not returned), the owners
spent thousands of dollars to defend themselves against baseless charges and
suffered the condemnation of a community that should have supported
forget—it could be you next time.
D. Jay Hyman is an attorney who specializes in all aspects of purebred dog
law. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and Harvard Law School,
he has been breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks longer than anyone in the U.S. He
judges Hounds, Herding breeds, and some terriers.
"What Lies Behind Us And What Lies Before Us
Are Tiny Matters Compared To What Lies Within Us."
Here are some links to help educate yourself in how to fight for your rights to continue to own and love your animals. Please do not be mislead by PETA or HSUS who is PETA in suits.