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York County trio first in state ordered to reimburse animal rescue for costs of care
Three Hopewell Township residents found guilty in May of numerous counts of animal cruelty are the first defendants in Pennsylvania ordered to reimburse an animal rescue organization under the state's cost-of-care law.
The law, previously known as House Bill 82, passed in July. It requires owners of seized animals to pay up to $15 a day for food, shelter and medical care, in addition to necessary medical care as determined by a licensed veterinarian.
Aglyphic Creatures Rescue (ACR) in York County filed a civil petition in May seeking reimbursement of "reasonable costs of care" for 78 animals seized in February by Humane Society Police Officer Ame Kessler. She runs the nonprofit Aglyphic Creatures Rescue.
"This case has drained us completely," Kessler said. "We (operate on) donations only."
First in court: ACR's petition was the second cost-of-care reimbursement petition filed in Pennsylvania, but the first to come to court, according to Philadelphia attorney Nadia Adawi and Harrisburg attorney Tucker Hull, both of whom represented the rescue in court.
York County President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh presided over the two-day hearing, which began May 29, 2014 and concluded on June 4, 2014, when Linebaugh issued a ruling from the bench.
He ordered Paul Leahy, 60, Melissa Brodbeck, 32, and Barbara Brodbeck, 66, all of the 4300 block of Hess Road, to pay ACR more than $44,000, plus another $350 a day going forward, according to Adawi. Melissa Brodbeck is Leahy's girlfriend and the daughter of Barbara Brodbeck.
"He granted us the costs for food, water, shelter and veterinary care for all the (seized) animals for which there was a conviction of animal cruelty," Adawi said.
Seized: The seized animals include 11 horses, a donkey, 13 dogs, two pot-bellied pigs, dozens of chickens and peeps, two exotic birds and a cat, according to court records.
The dogs were underweight, smeared with feces and full of lice when Kessler seized them, according to court records.
In all, Kessler seized 84 animals but many of the peeps died, she said.
Leahy and the Brodbecks remain the legal owners of all the seized animals. Had they signed over ownership of the animals, they could not be ordered to reimburse ACR for the costs of care, according to the law.
A 12th horse, Reba, was emaciated and Melissa Brodbeck signed over ownership of her to Kessler, according to hearing testimony.
Kessler said she first went to Leahy's home — a farmhouse with a small barn and several outbuildings — on Feb. 19, 2014, and took Reba, a quarter horse suffering from lice, dermatitis, a secondary skin infection and bite wounds.
Team of rescuers: She returned to Leahy's home Feb. 28, 2014, with a search warrant and a team of rescuers. It took them six hours to remove all the animals, according to Kessler.
She cited Leahy and the Brodbecks with 31 counts each of summary animal cruelty, saying they failed to provide adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care, and allowed the animals to live in unsanitary conditions.
District Judge John Olwert found the trio guilty of 21 counts each of animal cruelty. He also found Leahy guilty of one count of summary harassment for harassing Kessler at the farm.
Prison ordered: Olwert ordered 90-day prison sentences for the defendants. He ordered Leahy to pay a fine of $17,747 and ordered the Brodbecks to pay more than $16,000 each in fines.The punishments are on hold because the trio's attorney, Scott Harper, indicated he will appeal the summary convictions.
Leahy has denied the allegations.
Hull said Leahy and the Brodbecks have 30 days to appeal Judge Linebaugh's cost-of-care ruling.
"This (cost-of-care law) is not intended to punish anyone. ... This is not a penalty," said Adawi, who is vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's animal-law committee. "Owners of animals have a duty of care and this responsibility continues even if the animals are duly seized."
Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said the law has provided much-needed relief to small humane organizations that are already overburdened with the cost of basic animal care.
Financial burden: Before the law was passed, pet owners who spent years appealing animal-cruelty convictions — and who refused to relinquish ownership of their animals — bore no financial burden to reimburse shelters holding those animals. Shelters couldn't adopt out the pets, meaning they had to remain in shelter custody until appeals were finished.
"What this law is really doing is preventing animal abusers from leveraging the cost of care for animals for a better plea deal," Speed said.
The law also is in the best interests of animals, most of which don't do well in a long-term shelter or kennel setting, she said.
It also will allow small shelters to tackle large cruelty cases, such as animal hoarders, because they can now be reimbursed for boarding fees, Speed said.
Verdicts upheld: In June 2015, the state Superior Court upheld the verdicts against Leahy and the Brodbecks, according to court records.
The state Supreme Court declined to hear the defendants' appeal, according to Kessler.
Kessler said she so far hasn't received much of the cost-of-care reimbursement money that the court ordered Leahy and the Brodbecks to pay.
Barbara Brodbeck was in York County Court on April 2, 2018, for a contempt hearing for failure to pay, according to court records, and Melissa Brodbeck's contempt hearing was set for April 13, 2018.
A contempt hearing has so far not been scheduled for Leahy, according to court records.
'A struggle': On April 13, 2017, Kessler said Aglyphic Creatures Rescue still hasn't recovered from the financial hit it took from caring for the seized animals, and said the nonprofit rescue no longer handles "big" cases because of that.
"It's been a struggle," she said.
All of the animals that survived were adopted to good homes, she said, and Reba the horse went back to her former owner.
To learn more about Aglyphic Creatures Rescue, or to donate, visit www.aglyphiccreaturesrescue.org or find them on Facebook.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.