Bess build nest in starving dog
The Sentinel, Cumberland County
Last updated: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:53 AM EDT
By Joseph Cress, Sentinel Reporter

East Pennsboro Police Chief Dennis McMaster has seen a lot of horrible things in his long career as a police officer. But he says nothing was more shocking than seeing bees flying in and out of an open tumor in the side of a dog named Merrick.

McMaster says the insects had built a nest in the 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever found June 26 by a letter carrier in the 300 block of West Perry Street. Officers who responded to the report found a dog so emaciated that its rib cage was in plain view, the chief says. "It could not stand up ... Its breathing was labored ... He was literally skin and bones."

The township animal control officer took the dog to the West Shore shelter of the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area. The next day, Merrick died while en route to a veterinarian appointment at the society’s East Shore shelter.

An investigation led police to file charges of animal cruelty against the dog’s owner, John L. Shafer, 31, of the first block of State Road, Silver Spring Township. McMaster says the first degree misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison. The chief adds the investigation continues in an effort to determine if others may be responsible for the neglect. "It was so obvious the horrible suffering this animal went through," McMaster says. The chief says Shafer admitted in an Aug. 3 interview with police that he left the dog behind at his apartment in the 100 block of North Enola Drive while he stayed elsewhere. In a statement to police, Shafer denied not feeding the dog and said he stopped by almost daily, McMaster says.

The chief says a necropsy at the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory determined the tumor was benign and the dog died from starvation, dehydration and neglect. He says officers were only able to identify Merrick as a retriever by looking at its head.

In his statement to police, Shafer told officers he did not have the money to take Merrick to the veterinarian and he intended to have the dog euthanized once he could pay for it. McMaster says there is no excuse for this. Shafer could have taken the dog to the humane society, which has an agreement with the township to take care of stray and suffering animals. The chief says Caryn Shafer told police Aug. 3 the dog had the tumor but was well fed when she left her husband and moved out of the apartment in April. The chief adds John Shafer’s landlord, Loretta Clugh, gave officers photographs she took showing feces on the furniture and the apartment floor stained with urine and blood. One reason for the ongoing investigation is to determine how Merrick got out of the apartment. The dog was found about a block away by the letter carrier, McMaster says.

"Through ignorance and neglect, this dog had a horrible death," the chief adds.