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Trial ahead in case of Hopewell Twp. dogs killing livestock
A Hopewell Township man with a history of animal neglect is now facing trial in York County Court for allegedly letting two of his German shepherds run loose and kill livestock, including a baby goat.
Paul Michael Leahy also faces trial in a second related case, for allegedly allowing one of those dogs to run loose after being notified that he'd been accused of harboring dangerous dogs. Once charged with that offense, a dog owner must keep dogs confined until the matter is resolved, according to court documents.
Typically the offense of harboring a dangerous dog is a summary citation, akin in seriousness to a traffic ticket. But the grading is increased to misdemeanor level when a defendant was previously guilty of the same offense within a year, according to state Dog Warden Cathy McKinney, who investigated with fellow Dog Warden Brandon Mitchem.
Leahy pleaded guilty in January to one count of summary failure to confine dogs, court records state, making his pending charges misdemeanors.
Leahy, 64, of the 4300 block of Hess Road, remains free on his own recognizance. He appeared before District Judge Laura Manifold on Tuesday, Aug. 28, for his preliminary hearings on the two cases.
He and defense attorney Scott Harper waived Leahy's right to a preliminary hearing on the first case but took his hearing on the second case.
The listed victim in both cases is Heather Brett Harris, one of Leahy's neighbors.
Jumped on chicken coop: She testified Tuesday that she was washing dishes the evening of June 3 and heard what sounded like a dog yip.
"Then I heard my chickens cackling and carrying on," Harris testified.
She ran outside and found Nova, one of Leahy's dogs, "jumping up on my coop ... trying to kill more of my animals," she said.
She said all her animals except one chicken were safely in sturdy coops she and her husband built since the first alleged attack by Leahy's dogs. Somehow, the sole loose chicken was able to get away from the dog, she testified.
"(There was) no carnage this time," Harris told the judge, adding that "it was the same dog that had killed my baby goat."
Harper, the defense attorney, told Harris, "I feel really bad about what happened to your animals," prompting her to reply, "I do too."
Leahy did not testify, and Judge Manifold bound over the second case for court.
After the hearing, he declined comment to The York Dispatch, as did Harper.
As he was signing court documents, Leahy told the judge, "I'm not a criminal. I didn't do anything. The dog got out one time."
But neighbors, including Harris, have told The York Dispatch that Leahy's dogs running loose has been an ongoing problem.
The background: In the first case — the one for which Leahy waived his hearing Tuesday — Mitchem charged Leahy with two counts of failing to confine his animals and cited him with two counts of harboring dangerous dogs. In Pennsylvania, the designation of "dangerous dog" means it attacked or killed humans or animals without provocation.
If found guilty of harboring dangerous dogs, Leahy would have to abide by strict requirements to be allowed to keep them, including muzzling them when they are off his property, keeping a $50,000 surety bond and at least a $50,000 insurance policy on each dog and housing them in a locked or secure kennel with a top barrier, according to Pennsylvania Dog Law.
Other requirements include registering each dog annually with the state at a cost of $500 per dog.
Leahy's dogs have attacked and killed Harris' animals three times this year on her property, she maintains, although she only has proof in two of the incidents.
"These animals weren't just farm animals," Harris previously told The York Dispatch. "They're my pets, and I loved every one of them."
'Aggressive': Harris said she and her husband set up trail cameras so she could prove it was Leahy's shepherds doing the killing.
McKinney and Mitchem investigated and had state police escort them onto Leahy's property "for safety reasons," McKinney has said. Leahy has been charged in the past with threatening animal control officers.
Harris said the first attack happened Jan. 8, when one of Leahy's German shepherds killed eight to 10 chickens and a pair of golden pheasants on Harris' property.
"She tore into their coop," Harris said of the large tan-and-black dog. "It had one of my dead pheasants in her mouth (when I saw her)."
For that incident, McKinney cited Leahy on Jan. 17 with the summary-graded version of failing to confine his dog. Leahy pleaded guilty Jan. 26 and was ordered to pay a $250 fine and about $90 in court costs and fees, according to court records.
Harris said dogs came onto her property and killed some of her animals Feb. 11, but she didn't see them and can't prove which dogs were responsible.
That's when she and her husband put up trail cameras, she said.
Baby goat killed: The third attack happened April 9, and Harris caught some of the carnage on her trail cameras and in cellphone photos, she said.
That case is the one that Leahy waived into county court.
The two German shepherds — Nova and Miss Kitty — tore down fencing and killed an 8-week-old pygmy goat, as well as a dozen chickens, according to Harris and charging documents.
One of the dogs broke the neck of the baby goat, who Harris called Baby Boy because she hadn't yet decided on a name, she said.
Harris said the dogs also killed a neighbor's cat and chickens.
"We've given him at least three verbal warnings," she said, but the problem has continued.
Threat charges: Leahy was charged with aggravated assault, making terroristic threats and related offenses after he allegedly threatened Animal Control Officer Michelle Klugh on his property in October 2017. Klugh was there to return a lost dog and was asking for payment.
Klugh said Leahy grabbed her arm and told her, "I have a double barrel for you."
As part of a negotiated plea agreement, all the criminal charges were dismissed and Leahy instead pleaded guilty to a summary offense of harassment.
In 2014, Humane Society Police Officer Ame Kessler from Aglyphic Creatures Rescue seized 84 animals from Leahy's property, including 11 horses, a donkey and 13 dogs. One of the horses, Reba, was emaciated and suffering from bite wounds, lice, dermatitis and a secondary skin infection. The dogs were underweight and full of lice, Kessler has said.
First in state: Leahy, live-in girlfriend Melissa Brodbeck and her mother, Barbara Brodbeck, were found guilty of multiple counts of animal cruelty in May 2014.
In June 2014, a York County judge ordered the trio to reimburse Aglyphic Creatures Rescue more than $44,000 for the costs of care the rescue incurred while caring for the animals.
They were the first defendants in Pennsylvania to be ordered to reimburse an animal-welfare organization for costs of care, attorneys said at the time.
Also as part of that case, Leahy was found guilty of summary harassment for harassing Kessler as she was doing her work.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.