LIMA — A group of 10 people assembled Monday afternoon outside of Lima Municipal Court, sporting signs with phrases such as “Justice for Schnauzer” and “Stop Animal Abuse,” trying to get the message across of what was happening inside the courthouse.
Another group of more than 20 people, many from the Allen County Humane Society, filled nearly half the courtroom, for a case that has shaken many animal lovers in the Lima community. A 68-year-old man stands accused of beating a dog to death with his hands.
Dennis L. Phalen, of Lima, faces one count of cruelty to companion animals, after he allegedly beat a Schnauzer-type dog to death earlier in the month when he and his wife got into an argument.
The two groups had completely different reasons for attending the arraignment, they all had one common cause, to prevent animal cruelty. The group standing outside, Nitro Foundation, advocated for animal cruelty charges to be upped from misdemeanors to felonies.
“We’re not here to say he’s guilty, and we’re not here to say he’s not guilty,” said Mary E. Bryant, a member of Nitro Foundation, a group fighting for the law to change. “We’re here because the judge will determine that, but this case has brought national awareness to the cause, and it’s going to help Ohioans pass the law. Regardless of whether he’s guilty or not, it still sheds light on animal cruelty and how serious it really is.”
Nitro Foundation focuses on Nitro’s Law, Ohio House Bill 108, formerly House Bill 80, which would make it animal cruelty a felony, not just a misdemeanor as it is now. The law passed through the Ohio House in February and awaits action in the Ohio Senate. Nitro was a Rottweiler that died in a canine training facility in Youngstown.
TheAllen County Humane Society dealt firsthand with the localcase, when Phalen’s wife drove the battered dog to the shelter in hopes of saving it on that November afternoon.
“We’re going to try to show our support for animals actually. That’s the main reason why we’re here,” said Michael Ley, interim director and president of the board of directors for the Allen County Humane Society. “There’s a huge correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse in this community and nationwide actually. In particular, we want to make sure people know this happens in Allen County, and it happens frequently actually. We need to start putting a stop to it and fighting for the rights of animals.”
Randi Simon-Serey traveled from Piqua to join Nitro Foundation outside the courthouse. Two of her dogs came from puppy mill raids, so the cause is near and dear to her.
“It changes a person,” she said, adding that she works as a rehabilitation nurse. “I work with humans, but you stop seeing the difference between humans and dogs because it’s the same nonverbal communication and feeling. The lines blur.”
When Phalen didn’t arrive for his 2 p.m. hearing, some people were upset and disappointed that he entered a written plea and did not physically appear.
“It’s kind of typical actually,” Ley said. “I really wasn’t too surprised, especially with the publicity and everything with this case. So I didn’t think he would probably show. A lot of people are going to say he’s a coward or something like that, but in all actuality, it’s the way the judicial system works, and that’s what’s going to end up happening.”
Court attendees called Phalen a variety of names after assistant city prosecutor Nicole Smith informed the crowd he would not be showing up.
“I just hope he gets jail time,” DebHelser, who has a dog rescue shelter, Deb’s Dogs, in Lima. “He’s a coward, and people who hurt animals are cowards because it makes them feel important. We all know that.”
Most had questions for Smith following her message, and the overall tone was one of frustration.
Since Phalen entered a plea of not guilty, the case will continue, but no court dates have been set yet.