There is a new sense of hope at New Hope Assistance Dogs.
As a result of a bench trial Monday before District Justice Laura Bauer, New Hope and owner Barb Ruhlman were found not guilty on two counts each of cruelty to animals.
Those charges were brought by the Paws Along the River Humane Society with regard to an inspection that took place on Aug. 28.
In a plea agreement on charges from a separate agency investigating at the same time, Pennsylvania State Dog Warden Amy Tyger agreed to withdraw six kennel violations in exchange for New Hope pleading guilty to two others.
The plea was entered and New Hope was ordered to pay a fine of $294. Both charges carried the same title: "failure to keep kennel in sanitary and humane condition."
During her testimony in the cruelty case, former Humane Officer Tera Darts said changes required to remedy the problems at the facility were made within two days.
Attorney Philip Friedman of Erie made Bauer aware of a precedential Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling in a cruelty case - Commonwealth v. Simpson - in which neglect did not constitute cruelty.
"They charged New Hope and they charged Barb Ruhlman with animal cruelty... very serious charges," Friedman said.
"None of these dogs were in any danger," he said. "They're raising good, healthy dogs. There are two sitting in your courtroom."
The attorneys disagreed about the standard for cruelty.
"According to statute it's whether a person neglects an animal," Assistant District Attorney Caleb Gnage said. "The statute requires the animals have access to clean water and shelter. That was not provided to these animals. There's no excuse for that."
Gnage said he didn't believe New Hope was intentionally mistreating animals, rather it had "bitten off more than they could chew."
While Friedman admitted "there were deficiencies with the kennels," he said, "They have to prove that it was cruel... that it was wanton. They haven't done that."
Bauer agreed with Friedman. She explained that she did not award his earlier request for judgment for acquittal because "the court did want to make sure there was nothing wanton or cruel."
"The testimony today was that the defendants were told what to do... and all the issues were remedied," she said. "The benefit of the doubt must be given to the defendant."
"I'm very disappointed in the ruling as a humane officer," Humane Officer Karen Kolos said after the trial. "It doesn't matter if you clean up afterwards, they were in those conditions."
"I'm just hoping they do their jobs," she said.
Ruhlman said she was glad the case was over.