Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Killing Dogs Common Among Amish, Says Man Accused of Shooting Nine Pups & Their Mom

Jonathan Eicher, 19. Police photo.

It has been a rough week for dogs. Yesterday, news broke of a cop who shot five caged pit bulls at an animal shelter. Earlier in the week, a bulldog mix was sent to his death at a high-kill shelter because his owner thought he was gay. That pup was fortunately rescued after a Facebook campaign, though we suspect that he wouldn’t have fared as well without the gay twist.

Today, two Amish men stand accused of killing a litter of nine Australian Red Heelers and their mom. Police in Wayne County, N.Y., say Merlin Schmucker, 26, was trying to breed Heelers but wasn’t able to sell the puppies. When they got too big, he asked his employee Jonathan Eicher, 19, to kill them. A highway crew found the dogs’ bodies were found in a roadside ditch on January 17. Police say Eicher admitted to shooting the animals with a .22-caliber rifle in December and said that killing dogs under such circumstances is common practice among the Amish. “In the Amish it’s acceptable to put dogs down.  I thought as long as you did it out back it was okay,” Eicher told police, mentioning what he called “the three S’s:  shoot, shovel, and shut up.” Schmucker showed a bit of a sensitive side, telling police, “I raised the dogs and couldn’t put them down myself so I asked Jonathan to do it.” Both men are charged with animal cruelty.

Australian Red Heeler. Photo: Wikipedia/Eva Holderegger Walser

Dog breeding is widespread in the Amish community. Southeastern Pennsylvania, where many Amish live, is known among animal rights groups as the “puppy mill capital of the U.S.”  According to a Nightline report, there were about 300 licensed breeders in Lancaster County in 2009 with an estimated 600 more illegal operations in barns and sheds. A single puppy mill can house upwards of 500 dogs, many of them in unsanitary and cruel conditions. While the puppies are often sold to pet stores where they’re bought by unsuspecting families, the breeding mothers spend their entire lives in cages, delivering litter after litter. When they’re no longer able to produce pups, they’re euthanized or shot.

An Amish dog breeder gave Nightline a tour of his facility, which he said is “top of the line.” While the overcrowded cages and lack of individual attention may be considered inhumane by dog lovers, the anonymous breeder’s kennel is indeed far better than other Amish facilities, where dogs spend their days in chicken wire cages stacked on top of one another. In 2010, an Amish dog breeder in upstate New York, not far from where Schmucker and Eicher were arrested, admitted to killing 93 dogs by connecting an exhaust hose to an airtight chamber he built. This mass-execution of dogs was performed after inspectors ordered the breeder to treat his dogs for Brucellosis after tests showed that some of the animals had the contagious disease.  Last November, Amish breeder Jonas Beachy was charged with animal cruelty after 52 dogs were seized from his Ohio property, where they lived in “horrendous conditions,” according to reports. Beachy argued that the dogs were seized over “cultural differences.” In discussion of the Amish puppy mill problem, it’s often repeated that the “Plain people,” as they’re known, view dogs as livestock, not pets. For a culture that relies heavily on livestock, that should be no excuse for bad animal husbandry. Greed, it seems, is the true root of the dog cruelty problem, and greed is hardly limited to the Amish.

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