Ex-veterinarian pleads guilty to felony animal cruelty charges against Lancaster dogs

An unlicensed former veterinarian busted for illegally “debarking” Lancaster dogs without anesthesia recently admitted her guilt and was sentenced to time served.

Denise Felling, 55, pled guilty to eight felony charges of animal cruelty involving torture and serious bodily injury, the PSPCA announced this week.

Felling had been jailed for nearly two month, after being arrested in Iowa and then extradited to Lancaster County to face the animal cruelty charges.

Under the terms of her guilty plea, entered on Dec. 20, Felling was sentenced by Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker to time served to 23 months and released on probation. She was ordered to pay approximately $1,228 in court fees and was believed to have returned to Iowa, according to the PSPCA.

“We are grateful to the district attorney’s office for taking this case so seriously and going to the extent of extraditing Felling to Pennsylvania to face her crimes,” said PSPCA (Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) spokeswoman Gillian Kocher. “We hope this will serve as a deterrent to both Felling and other individuals who may consider committing such heinous acts. This case only further highlights the Pennsylvania SPCA’s dedication to Lancaster County.”

The PSPCA Humane Law Enforcement team obtained the warrant for Felling’s arrest after discovering she was responsible for the illegal “debarking” of four dogs residing in Quarryville and Kinzers, specifically a husky, a Doberman, a beagle mix and a Spaniel mix, in January and May 2018.

Felling pleaded guilty to permanently destroyed these dogs’ vocal cords by shoving a rod down the animals’ throats and into the vocal chambers. “Debarking” is illegal unless deemed medically necessary by a licensed vet, and performed under anesthesia at an animal hospital. (The dog’s former owner, an unlicensed breeder, is also facing misdemeanor animal cruelty charges).

Under Pennsylvania’s Libre’s Law, which took effect in 2017, Felling was hit with eight animal cruelty felony charges, two charges per dog, one each for “torture” and one for “serious bodily injury.” Prosecutors credited the new law, which stiffened penalties for animal cruelty, with allowing them to pursue more serious charges in this case.

“The flexibility to file these felony charges was made possible by the hard work of so many in reaching reform to Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws,” Lancaster County DA Craig Stedman said in a statement after Felling was extradited to Lancaster on Nov. 30. “My office, and the police agencies in our county, remain committed to holding accountable the abusers of animals.”

Illegal debarking

Debarked husky

Rosella, a Siberian husky debarked by Felling, who has since been adopted to a new home. (Courtesy of PSPCA)

Felling was arrested in Iowa by the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 9. Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine records show Felling, a licensed veterinarian in Iowa since 1991, had her license revoked in January 2007. Felling had “an extensive discipline history,” including for inappropriately prescribing medication, and after an initial license suspension, did not follow board-directed steps to renew her license.

“It is just hard to imagine that someone who at some point was licensed in the state of Iowa to provide care and treatment for animals would turn her back on that, to move forward and torture animals in this way,” Nicole Wilson, director of PSPCA Humane Law Enforcement, previously told Metro. “It is extremely painful, and after she was done, she left no medications for these animals to address pain or the possibility of infection.”

All four dogs involved in the case have since been rehabilitated at the PSPCA and adopted out to new owners.

Animal cruelty can be reported anonymously to the PSPCA’s Cruelty Hotline at 866-601-7722. To learn more, visit PSPCA.org.

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