UPDATED: Judge rules Chester County will keep 101 Dobermans

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By Staff Reports

A Richburg man who had more than 100 Dobermans removed from his property last year will not be getting the animals back.

Jordan James Johnson, 48, was arrested in September after the dogs, which belonged to him, were found by Animal Control officers living in “grossly unsanitary” conditions. He initially faced 198 changes ranging from ill treatment of animals to violating the state rabies control law. In January, Johnson was in court, where he entered a plea of no contest on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges related to 15 of the dogs. He was sentenced to 90 days probation and Sixth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Candice Lively said Johnson would not be able to retain ownership of those 15 dogs. However, an evidentiary hearing was held later in January to determine the fate of the other 101 Dobermans.

Wendy Glenn with Chester County Animal Control, recounted the events that led up to the discovery of the dogs and Johnson’s arrest at that hearing. She was responding to a call from a neighbor about some of Johnson’s dogs running loose in their yard and was going to serve him with a bench warrant for an unpaid parking ticket while she was there. She described the layout, saying there was a barn-type structure in the center of the property with a large pen built onto it and several pens set up around the perimeter built from small storage buildings and fencing. There were also a number of elevated boxes with ramps running from the opening to the ground where mothers and their puppies were kept. Glenn said she initially saw “40 or 50” dogs in the largest pen “totally covered in dog mess.” She said most of the pens had overturned water buckets and empty feeding containers in them. One pen had “muddy” water in it and one pen had food that “looked like it had been there a while.” Some of the pens were overgrown with weeds. Dozens of empty dog food bags were found but no full, or partially full bags were located anywhere on the property. The dogs were fighting with one another, many had mange spots and visible injuries and a number of dog carcasses were located, as were what appeared to be dog bones. Feces was spread all over the property, a long streak of feces and urine was found in one pen and a large pile of trash that the dogs could easily access was off to one side of the property. Glenn also said it appeared that Johnson lived in the barn with many of the dogs and when she and other officers first saw him he was covered in dog feces. The dogs were fostered out to rescue groups which incurred tens of thousands of dollars in cost feeding the animals and providing them medical care. More than 20 of the dogs have since died.

Brent Gwinn with Palmetto Veterinary Clinic treated 10 of the dogs for things ranging from bite wounds to red mange, fleas, ringworm and intestinal parasites, though none of the dogs tested positive for heartworms. One dog had a limb deformity and one female dog had an infection so severe that her reproductive tract had filled with pus and she had to be spayed. He said he would not recommend that the dogs be returned to those conditions. Lively mentioned that Johnson had his American Kennel Club certification suspended, could not actually sell his dogs on the property because he was denied a business license by the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals and that his mother, who actually owned the property, had disallowed him from entering the property or bringing dogs there.

Johnson, represented by Public Defender William Frick, tried to refute almost everything presented by the state. He blamed media coverage and an outside party for his mother barring him from the property and insinuated she had since changed her mind, said the AKC would reinstate his certification as soon as he made a few recommended improvements to the property, that he did not have 116 dogs (he said the number was 111) and that he lived in a house at the edge of the property (though it was not visible on the Google Maps image shown in court), but did stay in the barn with the dogs if one of them was sick or had recently had puppies.

Johnson denied that the dogs had adopted a “pack mentality,” he said that he was the “pack leader” and that the dogs obeyed him implicitly. He explained the amount of feces present by saying he’d not been feeling well and had taken one day off from his normal cleaning and dog care duties the day prior to Animal Control’s visit. He alleged Animal Control had done “wellness checks” on the dogs on two previous occasions and that he was not cited or ticketed. He did not discuss the dog carcasses found on the property, but said he often cared for the medical needs of the dogs himself, explaining a number of procedures, including deworming, he had learned to do under the supervision of a vet.

Judge Casey Manning issued his order in the case on Thursday. He listed as statements of fact that the 116 dogs were found “in overgrown weeds” and “feces” with “inadequate supplies of food…clean water and with varying medical conditions requiring veterinary attention.” He referenced Gwinn’s testimony that it “was neglect for any one person to care for 116 dogs,” that Johnson’s mother no longer allowed him on the property and that Johnson’s sole income was earned through breeding his Dobermans, but “the evidence showed he was no longer in good standing with American Kennel Club as a breeder for the sale of these puppies.”

Manning noted that Johnson had no business license and provided no evidence of “current or future income to support his ability to provide appropriate shelter, food and/or sustenance of the 101 dogs if they were returned to him.

Manning’s conclusion was that Johnson was not fit to adequately care for 116 dogs without the dogs “succumbing to degrees of physical and medical neglect.” He ordered that the dogs be forfeited to the Animal Shelter for adoption or other appropriate disposition “but none of the dogs shall be returned to the defendant of any of his agents.”

Lively said Animal Control has the final say on where the dogs end up, but thinks they will likely remain with the foster families currently caring for them.