A Lebanon County farmer facing animal cruelty charges stemming from kennel inspections has sold his dairy herd.
Jonathan Lantz of Myerstown said he was concerned law enforcement officers could seize some of his 50 dairy cattle, but he said the issues raised by dog law inspectors were based on a poor understanding of the farm setting.
“We were trying to meet their standards,” he said.
Lantz got a kennel license last year after an inspector said he needed one.
The license is required for any establishment where at least 26 dogs are kept or transferred during a calendar year.
With breeds that have large litters, it doesn’t take many pregnant females to reach this threshold.
Although he had a kennel license, Lantz did not have a kennel building per se.
The dogs had free range in his dairy barn and they nested in the hay mower, he said.
Those conditions did not satisfy the state kennel inspector, who described filthy living conditions and inadequate measures to keep the dogs confined during five visits in 2017.
Dog law enforcement officers are required to inspect a kennel twice a year, but that number can increase if the kennel fails the inspection or a complaint is received, said Pennsylvania Ag Department spokesperson Casey Smith.
The agency enforces state dog law, although it does not have jurisdiction over animal cruelty.
Lantz said the conditions described in the reports would be familiar on a working farm.
For example, the plastic wraps reported by the inspector were from wrapped bales of hay, he said.
Inspection reports indicate that Lantz was trying to comply – a sharp tool accessible to dogs was apparently moved after the first report, and Lantz performed veterinary checks when asked – but the situation escalated to as the weather cooled.
The inspector made his first referral for animal cruelty on December 7 after observing a shivering puppy.
She made another reference two weeks later after seeing several sick dogs, as well as several short-haired dogs exposed to 33 degrees outside temperature.
Lantz said he sometimes keeps the dogs in the basement of his house to keep them warm.
Shortly before Christmas, humanitarian law enforcement officers came to the farm for the first time.
They were serving a search warrant – not for dogs, but for three calves, which are not mentioned in the kennel’s inspection reports.
Although dog sitters and animal cruelty officers have separate roles, nothing would preclude separate investigations for dogs and livestock, said John Bell, senior government affairs attorney at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Lantz returned the calves, although one required specialist care and died. Misdemeanor charges have been filed, said Gillian Kocher, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The organization enforces the state animal cruelty code for animals of all kinds.
According to Lantz, one calf had a bruised hock, but the others were fine.
“There was no danger (for) those heifers,” he said.
David Lantz said his brother separated the injured calf to bandage it.
After the young stock was seized, Lantz canceled his kennel license and sold dogs to comply with kennel requirements.
The kennel was officially closed after an inspection on Jan. 5, during which Lantz refused entry to the canine guardian, according to the inspection report.
But Lantz’s experiment with agents of animal cruelty wasn’t over. SPCA staff returned to the farm about four weeks ago.
“While attempting to execute a warrant on the property, our officers noticed an English bulldog type dog in poor condition,” Kocher said. “We obtained a subsequent warrant and removed the dog from the property.”
Charges are pending for this incident.
As Lantz discussed his situation with others, some people speculated that the human officers might return and take more of his cattle.
He decided to sell his herd rather than take this risk.
Looking back, Lantz said he wasn’t sure he needed to sell the cows, but he didn’t want to have to pay the boarding fees if the cattle were taken off the farm.
Lantz’s case is currently before the state Supreme Court. Due to an apparent procedural glitch, it’s unclear how close resolution may be, he said.
An Agriculture Department spokeswoman said she could not discuss ongoing litigation.
Running a dog breeder on a farm isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Kennel requirements were tightened when the Dog Act was revised in 2010.
“The standards are quite extensive and the investment it would take to get people into the business is quite substantial,” Bell of Farm Bureau said.
The changes, which forced many breeders to make major building renovations, prompted some farmers to quit raising dogs, said Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.
David Lantz said he hopes people who are concerned about how the Dog Law is being enforced on farms will raise their concerns with the Department of Agriculture.
Jonathan Lantz now earns his living in construction.