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Agents remove dogs from unlicensed kennel

- Animal Friends chief humane officer Kathy Hecker speaks with media about dogs that were removed from a home in the Highland Grove section of McKeesport Friday afternoon.
Animal Friends chief humane officer Kathy Hecker speaks with media about dogs that were removed from a home in the Highland Grove section of McKeesport Friday afternoon.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News - Humane Society police officer Brian Bucek and McKeesport Animal Control officer Ken Ferree load crated dogs that were removed from a McKeesport home to be transported to Animal Friends.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News</em></div>Humane Society police officer Brian Bucek and McKeesport Animal Control officer Ken Ferree load crated dogs that were removed from a McKeesport home to be transported to Animal Friends.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News - McKeesport Animal Control officer Ken Ferree and Humane Society police officer Brian Bucek load crated dogs that were removed from a McKeesport home to be transported to Animal Friends.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News</em></div>McKeesport Animal Control officer Ken Ferree and Humane Society police officer Brian Bucek load crated dogs that were removed from a McKeesport home to be transported to Animal Friends.
Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 1:36 a.m.
 

Animal Friends removed eight dogs from an unlicensed kennel in McKeesport on Friday afternoon.

Animal Friends chief humane officer Kathy Hecker said pit bulls and pit bull mixes were seized as part of a search warrant at 3010 Cronemeyer St. in the city's Highland Grove neighborhood.

They will be checked for rabies, to make sure their vaccinations are current and held as evidence in a pending case against O&P Rescue.

“We will be issuing citations and going to court,” Hecker said. “These will be summary citations, but I believe there are warrants out. That ball's in someone else's court.”

O&P Rescue is run by Randy Kovach Jr., 30, and William Ura, 27.

“It was operating as a quasi-rescue operation, only they didn't have the proper certifications such as a kennel license,” Hecker said. “They were cited for not having a kennel license. That was by the (state) Department of Agriculture. They were cited by local animal control for dog law violations. We're moving the dogs because they're here illegally.”

On April 30, Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi found Ura and Kovach guilty of operating an unlawful kennel.

On July 30, Kovach was found not guilty of having dogs confined within premises of the owner.

On Aug. 6, charges of failure to have dogs vaccinated filed against Kovach were dismissed.

Charges of failure to produce licenses were dismissed against Ura on Aug. 6.

Friday's search warrant was executed with the assistance of McKeesport police, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and city animal control officer Ken Ferree. Ura and Kovach were not home when the dogs were taken.

Ferree said a woman who rents a room from Ura and Kovach let authorities into the building. She is not charged in connection with the investigation.

“We just got a confidential informant's tip yesterday that the animals were crated and alone without food (or) water,” Hecker said. “That animals were still coming in, which they shouldn't be, and that the place was filthy. The conditions of the house were bad. It's very cluttered, messy, dirty, feces on the floors. The conditions of the dogs is not awful. I can see that they've been fed and are fairly friendly.”

Hecker said Animal Friends offered to take the dogs into its shelter earlier this year because a city ordinance does not allow residents to have more than two pets or operate a kennel in a residential area. “They said they made other arrangements,” Hecker said.

Kovach, in a phone interview, said he was surprised by Animal Friends' actions “considering that Animal Friends was just at our house at the end of July. They received a call that we had sick and injured dogs, and that complaint was unfounded.”

Kovach said the kennel was not in operation around that time.

“We were done, and all we were trying to do was get the dogs we had adopted out,” he said. “This is coming out of nowhere. I don't know what charges they possibly have pending. All dogs have licenses and vaccinations.”

On Sept. 12, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued a cease-and-desist order against O&P Rescue for soliciting funds for charitable purposes. O&P Rescue has a Facebook page with a link where people can send donations.

Documents state Kovach, Ura and their organization were not registered with the Bureau of Charitable Organizations. They allegedly failed to respond to the bureau's investigative subpoena and have solicited contributions while not being registered.

Documents indicate O&P Rescue, William Ura and Randy Kovach Jr. may be subject to administrative fines of up to $1,000 per violation and $100 for each day the violation continues.

Kovach said the Facebook page should not have that link to provide donations. The last O&P Rescue Facebook posting was on Nov. 21 on its timeline. The page has 317 “likes.”

The organization's website, www.oandprrescue.org, was disabled.

Ferree organized a demonstration in May alerting the public about the illegal kennel.

The demonstration was in response to a protest of Ferree by Kovach and Ura to generate public support for ousting Ferree Kennels as animal control officer in several Mon Valley communities.

Ferree said he recused himself from the case involving Friday's search warrant, and any subsequent charges would be filed via Animal Friends and the state Department of Agriculture's Dog Law Enforcement Office.

Summary level charges are expected to be filed at Riazzi's office. It is unclear what charges would be filed.

Ferree declined to comment on Animal Friends' investigation, but called the animal seizure “unfortunate.”

“Maybe their hearts are in the right place,” Ferree said. “It's unfortunate, but the primary goal here is the dogs and the health of the dogs.”

Steven Stoehr, state dog warden for Allegheny County, could not be reached at presstime.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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