By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Convicted animal abuser Russell Ebersole exited a Frederick County Circuit courtroom Friday afternoon on his way to beginning a two-year jail sentence imposed on him by Judge Clifford "L. "Clay" Athey.
Athey also ordered Ebersole, owner of Aberdeen Acres Pet Care Center in Stephenson to not possess or own any companion animals for the next six years under terms of the jail sentence and a subsequent period of four years of unsupervised probation. Athey also ordered Ebersole to pay a fine totaling $10,000, $2,500 for each of four counts of animal cruelty.
The sentence came at the end of a two-hour hearing that drew about 50 people to the courtroom and a cascade of emails, letters and at least one online petition from members of the public weighing in on the case in the weeks leading up to the hearing.
Ebersole's sentence threw a shadow over the future of the kennel. Under terms of the sentence, the kennel can remain open and Ebersole can work there after his release from jail. But he must refrain from any interaction with dogs and other pets that would constitute possession or ownership of them during the duration of the probation sentence.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew Robbins said after the hearing the exact legal definition of possession or ownership may be less than clear-cut, but he believes it means that Ebersole cannot train companion animals at the kennel.
Robbins said after the hearing he also plans to explore options with the county government about possible regulatory actions against the kennel.
Ebersole, who has owned Aberdeen Acres since 1996, took to the witness stand and testified that he began training dogs at age 7 with his father and has remained in the same line of work for much of the time since then.
Ebersole, 53, and Robbins spent much of the hearing sparring over the meaning of several videos shown in Ebersole's defense. They also debated the nature of intelligence and emotions among dogs that suffer from abuse.
The videos depicted training techniques used by Ebersole, trainer Cesar Millan on his cable television series, and the Baltimore Police Department. Ebersole insisted the videos showed that his training is no harsher than those of Millan and the Baltimore police and maybe milder.
Ebersole insisted he never intentionally injured any dogs and none ever suffered permanent injuries under his training and care.
He also refused to give any ground when Robbins insisted that dogs can suffer ruinous psychological effects from repeated abuse.
"You will not concede that if you abuse a dog long enough, it will have psychological problems?" Robbins asked.
"No sir," Ebersole replied, adding that he was not a dog psychologist.
But Ebersole was more conciliatory in speaking to Athey moments before the judge announced the sentence.
"I would offer my contrition to anyone if any of their dogs have suffered injury," Ebersole said softly. "It's not what I set out to do."
Robbins called the sentence "fair" after the hearing.
"I think the judge gave it a lot of thought," Robbins said.
Robbins said he was also heartened by the heavy flow of electronic and paper mail sparked by the case and the strong courtroom turnout.
"This is something the community felt very, very strongly about," Robbins said. "We're glad we were able to do something about it."
Robbins added that he hoped citizens will show the same level of interest in other criminal cases pending in the courts.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org