Magisterial District Court Report
Animal Neglect, Animal Cruelty

Three area residents have been charged with neglect of animals and animal cruelty in connection with kennels/dog breeding located in Wapwallopen.

John Jerome Dancho, 70, 361 Cemetery Road, Wapwallopen; Michele Starkey, 57, 361 Cemetery Road, Wapwallopen, and Amanda Michele Dancho, 26, 527 Green Street, Freeland, have each been charged with 130 counts of neglect of animals and cruelty to animals. Wayne Harvey, Humane Society Police Officer for the SPCA of Luzerne County, and Trooper Kyle Gruber of the Pa. State Police at Troop P Schickshinny Patrol Unit filed the charges on January 11, 2018.

According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, on Dec. 31, 2017, Trooper Gruber received a call concerning multiple dogs left outside in freezing temperatures at 361 Cemetery Road. Trooper Gruber attempted to made contact with an owner of the residence. Multiple dogs were observed at various locations on the property. None had food and every water bowl was frozen solid. The temperature observed by the trooper was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It appeared to the trooper that the dogs had been licking the ice to sustain their thirst. The trooper also observed feces and urine in the kennels mixed in with straw where the dogs were kept. Several of the dogs were shivering and appeared in distress.

Trooper Francis McDonough, Hazleton Barracks, was able to make contact with the owner of the residence, John Jerome Dancho, who was at 527 Green Street in Freeland and informed him that he needed to get to the residence and tend to the animals there.

Humane Officer Harvey arrived on the scene and observed 11 adult canines in kennels behind the residence. All water was frozen and it appeared the dogs had been licking the ice in the water bowls. Most shelters consisted of plastic crates and igloo dog houses which were not isolated. The kennel runs were covered in feces and frozen urine. Several of the dogs were lethargic and appeared in distress. The temperature at the time was around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Two other dogs were in a large pen with a wooden structure in the center.

John Dancho arrived soon after and stated he had been at the residence the previous day, Dec. 30, 2017. He then attempted to enter the house but had to use a butane lighter to open the frozen lock on the door. Dancho allowed the officers to enter the residence. Upon entering the officers observed several wire cages in the front room with adult canines in them. All of the cages had feces and urine in them and the dogs were either sitting or laying and none had potable water in the bowls. One of the bowls appeared to be filled with urine. Another cage had a nylon zip tie on it securing the door which was later required cutting in order to remove the dog from the cage. There were feces in the room and urine on the floor. Several black garbage bags of straw containing urine and feces were strewn about the room along with empty bags of dog food. The entire residence smelled of urine and feces which made it difficult for the officers to breathe. Some of the cages were stacked on top of one another. Dancho stated no other dogs were in the house.

Dancho then arranged to have the outside dogs removed from their pens and placed in two separate vans for transport to his residence in Weatherly. His daughters, Ashley Dancho and Amanda Dancho, both assisted in the removal of the animals. His significant other, Michele Starkey, was also present but did not assist in the operation. About 11 outside dogs consisting of German Shorthair Pointers (GSP) and Brittany Spaniels were placed into the owners’ vans. Also, five adult dogs from the front room of the house were removed and placed in vans.

During the removal, other dogs were heard in the next room barking and Dancho was questioned about them. He admitted to the animals being there and opened the door to an adjacent room where eight young GSP pups in two separate plastic swimming pools surrounded and covered by wire caging. The cages had feces and urine in them. No water was present for the animals. At this point, Trooper Gruber felt it necessary to obtain a search warrant suspecting that there were more animals in the residence either alive or dead due to Dancho’s untruthfulness.

A search warrant was obtained and executed upon the property. Once inside, more dogs were found, including a GSP in a small crate in the basement. The crate urine and feces in it and was stuck to the floor due to the buildup and overflow. The dog was removed along with other canines, mainly Shihtzus, ranging in age from young adult to one senior dog which was laying in its own feces and urine. This dog had severe medical issues such as tumors, cataracts and rotting teeth. No water was found for any of the animals in the residence. Many of the dogs were in cages with multiple animals but some were in individual cages.

All dogs were removed and transported back to the SPCA where they were inoculated ad examined. Several required bathing to remove feces and urine from their fur.

Further investigations revealed that Michele Starkey has been running a dog breeding business for several years where the GSP canines and Shihtzus were being bred at various locations including the 361 Cemetery Road residence in Wapwallopen. She, along with her daughter, Amanda Michele Dancho and John Jerome Dancho, bred canines for profit and had a website called Pond Hill German Shorthair Pointers where Starkey took credit for designing the website. She listed both her phone number and email information. GSP pups were offered for sale for around $850. The Shihtzus were also offered for sale in the past but according to Michele Dancho these dogs were no longer bred.

Amanda Dancho admitted to having 14 young GSP puppies around five weeks of age at her residence at 527 Green St., Freeland along with three adult GSP. She is assisted by Starkey. Plans to sell these animals were stopped after Amanda Dancho agreed to sign the pups to the SPCA when they were weaned.

Therefore, Amanda Dancho, Michele Starkey and John Dancho had knowledge of the situation at Cemetery Road in Wapwallopen since they visited the residence frequently for their operation. All had a duty to care for the animals there.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for John Dancho, Michele Starkey and Amanda Dancho on February 23 at 9 a. m. at Luzerne County Central Court.