On July 27, officers from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the Philadelphia Police, and the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals staged a raid on the kennels of the Murder Hollow Bassets in Philadelphia, Pa.
Allegedly, the raid was the result of an unsuccessful search for an illegal dog breeding operation. Wendy Willard surrendered 11 of the Basset Hounds to PSPCA custody.
The Murder Hollow Bassets are a private pack supported by subscriptions, organized in 1986 and recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association in 1994. Willard, a retired school teacher and MBH and huntsman of the Murder Hollow Bassets, kennels her hounds in a barn near her house, located inside a 340-acre nature preserve, the largest single privately-owned parcel of land within the city limits of Philadelphia.
Murder Hollow had, at the time, 21 hounds in residence in the kennels, and Willard was also keeping two aged, retired Bassets in her home. The Commonwealth Dog Law Enforcement officers found no illegal kennels under state law and took their leave, but PSPCA Humane Law Officers accused Willard of violating Philadelphia’s Animal Control Code, which requires a waiver from the Department of Public Health for keeping more than 12 dogs or cats in “a residential dwelling unit.”
PSPCA officers demanded that Willard immediately surrender 11 hounds, reducing the number on her property to 12 (and agree to have all but four of those remaining neutered), or Willard was warned that the PSPCA would take all of her hounds.
A PSCPA press release justified the seizure on the grounds of “unsanitary conditions, lack of veterinary care and more dogs than allowed by law.” PSPCA officials conducted a follow-up inspection on Aug. 7, and claimed to find that “overall living conditions remained poor at the second inspection, resulting in 11 citations for unsanitary conditions, 11 citations for lack of veterinary care and two tickets for barking.”
Willard was unavailable for comment to the Chronicle, but was quoted in the Philadelphia Daily News as saying of the Bassets, “They are my family.”
Three of the hounds on Willard’s property belonged to the Sandanona Hare Hounds of Millbrook, N.Y.
Sandanona’s MBH Betsy Park makes a policy of retaining title to any hounds drafted, given as stud fees, or retired from her pack. With any hound originating from Sandanona comes a contract requiring its return to Park in the event that it can no longer be cared for at its new home. The PSPCA officers assured Willard that Park would have the chance to adopt and reclaim her hounds after their surrender.
SPCA usually channels pedigreed dogs into a breed-oriented rescue system, which houses them in private foster homes, and then distributes them to new owners in exchange for an adoption fee.
Hounds taken from the Murder Hollow kennels have not been made available for adoption but are continuing to be held by the PSPCA as evidence in the case.
The raid on the Murder Hollow kennels and PSPCA’s policies, operations and behavior in the current case have been widely criticized on the Internet and by field sports organizations rallying to Willard’s defense.
William E. Bobbitt, Jr., president of the National Beagle Club, said: “Wendy Willard has maintained a pack of Basset hounds recognized by the National Beagle Club of America since 1989. She frequently brings her hounds to the Institute Farm [in Aldie, Va.] to compete in the Basset Pack Trials held there, and her hounds are always fit and well cared for. In fact, she treats her hounds like family members. We want to support Wendy in her efforts to maintain the six couple of hounds that remain with her, but we also have great concern for the welfare of the hounds that were seized and taken.
“There are Basset packs that are willing and anxious to take those hounds in and provide them with good hunting homes, which is what they are used to, and we hope that the PSPCA will cooperate in making these placements possible, instead of keeping the hounds confined in cages at a holding facility,” Bobbitt added.
Lt. Col. Dennis Foster, executive director of the Master of Foxhounds Association of North America, called the PSPCA’s actions “a travesty.” He described the confiscation of Murder Hollow’s hounds as “a classic example of a government agency going out of bounds.”