A celebrated Pennsylvania dog breeder was convicted last year of animal cruelty for illegally cutting puppies’ ears. She went right on doing it, authorities say — and now faces new charges that include felony torture.
Joan Huber, 82, faces a maximum of 56 years in prison and fines up to $120,000 on eight counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, with four counts labeled as torture, according to the Pennsylvania SPCA, whose law enforcement department covers 23 of the state’s counties. A second breeder accused of helping Huber, Brian Beitz, is facing a maximum of 360 days in jail and $3,000 in fines on four related charges. If convicted, he would also lose the right to a kennel license for at least 10 years.
Huber was convicted last year after she was found to be cropping puppies’ ears without anesthesia or a veterinary license, but she did not serve time and was instead monitored by a probation officer. As that case developed, she became a cause celebre among some breeders, who argued she was the victim of unfair laws regulating a practice that has been common in the field for decades.
In the current case, Huber picked up four miniature schnauzers in April from one location and then drove them to a grooming shop, where she cropped their ears, according to Nicole Wilson, the director of humane law enforcement at the SPCA. The dogs were then moved to Beitz’s Waverly Kennels, which is where the SPCA, acting on a tip, found the pups with infected ears and seized them, Wilson said.
In an interview, Beitz said he was fostering the dogs for Huber because she had lost help at her own kennel. He said Huber told him a veterinarian had cropped the dogs’ ears and that he hasn’t spoken to Huber since the incident.
“I don’t appreciate being lied to,” he said.
As she did after her first arrest, Huber alleged in a brief phone interview that animal rights activists are seeking to destroy her career.
“They’re trying to crucify me at 82 so I can’t make a living,” she says. “My reputation is impeccable.”
Breeders have long cropped the ears of some dog breeds — including miniature schnauzers — to make the animals’ ears stand up and look pointy. Pennsylvania requires it be done by a veterinarian. Several countries prohibit ear-cropping, and nine U.S. states regulate the procedure, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which opposes cropping.
A witness told the SPCA the puppies were held down “crying and screaming” without anesthesia while their ears were cut, Wilson said, and that no pain medication or antibiotics were given after the cropping.
“When veterinarians do this type of procedure, the animal is fully under anesthesia,” she said.
Huber said in an interview last year that she had cropped ears for 50 years and she planned to continue her business in a state without regulations on the practice. Instead, authorities say, she stayed in Pennsylvania and enlisted other people to help her hide the cropping.
“It appears that she is having other kennel operators house animals for her, in an effort to continue operations,” Wilson said. “The people who are around her, who are continuing to support her actions, these people weren’t turning a blind eye.”
Huber has been a breeder for more than 60 years, and she has produced more than 850 American Kennel Club champions. She was feted in 2016 as the AKC’s Terrier Group Breeder of the year and was among seven finalists for the purebred world’s top award: AKC Breeder of the Year. Her miniature schnauzer puppies could sell for $3,500 or more.
Beitz’s Waverly Kennels, founded in 2009, also breeds miniature schnauzers with champion lineage. Beitz posts on social media about participating in AKC-sanctioned shows, most recently in August, when he took home several awards ribbons.
The AKC says Huber has been banned from using its services and Beitz is “currently unable to use its services,” with further action possible depending on his case’s outcome.
Wilson said it is not uncommon for people convicted of animal cruelty, including dogfighters and hoarders, to “move animals around” to continue their activities while eluding authorities.
“I have three other cases besides her just this year, doing similar things,” Wilson says. “Two other cases, they’re moving animals between two locations.”
In one case, a person who kept about 50 cats would drive them around the neighborhood in a U-Haul until inspectors left the property, Wilson said.
John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign of the Humane Society of the United States, said he saw similar behavior when he focused on dogfighting a few years ago.
“When dogs were moved around, [it] was generally when they found out that a local fighter had been raided,” he says. “They would fear that other dogfighters in the county might be next and at least move the dogs who had scar patterns that could be used as forensic evidence.”
Some longtime breeders, including those who have come to Huber’s defense, argue the problem is an increasing number of laws that unfairly target traditions of the “dog fancy.” Wilson said the issue is people who do not think animal-welfare laws apply to them.
“People say, ‘This is how we’ve always done it,’ ” she said. “Well, guess what? Technology has improved. Medical practices have improved. Why do you think an old way of handling an animal hasn’t changed in 20 years? They’re trying to defend the indefensible.”