WAPAKONETA — Meesha, a female pit bull, was captured recently by the Auglaize County Dog Warden, running at-large with her sister in Auglaize County. Both animals had scratches on their necks and faces.
Meesha now calls the Auglaize County Humane Society home, while her sister remains with the dog warden.
The owners of the dogs are unknown, but it’s believed the dogs were being trained or used for fighting. If the owners are found, they could be charged with crimes.
Deb Logan, manager of the Auglaize County Humane Society, has seen many abuse cases in her six years with the organization.
“I try to avoid prosecution. I try to reason with the owners. In a case where they’re definitely abusing them, I tell them, ‘It’s either I take the animal and you willingly sign it over, or I prosecute.’ Nine times out of 10, we don’t have to prosecute,” she said.
Abuse cases tend to rise in extreme weather
“[It’s] worse in the winter months than any other time. There are families that don’t believe in bringing their dogs in; a lot of times they leave them out in the cold. The water freezes up. They have no food, they have no water, so it’s definitely worse in the winter. In the summertime, we do have an occasional call where a dog’s been left in a garage or something like that. It’s the extreme temperatures that we notice more [abuse] here,” said Logan.
Animal cruelty and abuse investigations can be handled either by humane societies or dog wardens, depending on how the structure is set up in each county. Many times a dog warden will be called out to investigate and then hand off the case to the humane society and both entities work together to determine the appropriate actions.
“The first thing I do is take down all of their information,” Logan said. “I have a form and as they’re on the phone with me, I write the date and the time, their name, their phone number and then the description of the call. We get called on multiple things, not just dogs and cats. We go out for horses, cows, pigs, you name it. If there’s something going on, they’ll call us and we’ll investigate it.”
Deciding whether the abuse rises to the level of prosecution is a grey area
“According to Ohio law, as long as an animal has food, water, and shelter, people are within the law. I will definitely give a good look at the animal to see if it’s emaciated to where I can tell it’s not been getting the care it needs,” Logan said.
Logan recalls a particularly bad case where there were obvious neglect and charges were filed against the owners of the animals.
“The worst case was a home [in Wapakoneta] where we went into it and the owners had left and moved out and abandoned the animals. There were five animals on site, and all of them were deceased except for one who was a little white Chihuahua. The other ones had melted into the carpeting, and it was a horrible, horrible thing. It did not smell well at all. There were charges pressed against them. They were held accountable for what they had done,” said Logan.
Penalties for abusing animals can vary according to the severity of the abuse and whether it’s prosecuted through the state or a municipality.
“We get a hold of the [county] prosecutor and then it goes from there,” she said. “A lot of times they’re just fines. In cases where there’s hoarding, we did have a case where they had a lot of different animals, way too many, and were doing a breeding thing. We took them. We prosecuted them. They were given a pretty substantial fine and then they were also penalized and not allowed to have animals anymore. They were given five years that they could not have pets. Now it’s been since then and they now have pets but we keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re not getting back into the same cycle.”
“At any point in time, if we are given a call or we think something’s not right, we have the right to go to the home, leave a 24 hour notice, try to make contact or call them and say look I need to come and see what’s going on in your home. If they do not allow us to, we can involve the police if we have to, that way we’re able to go in and take a look and make sure the animals are safe,” she said.
Abuse and neglect are also prevalent in Allen County
“It’s a really big problem, but we’re hoping as word gets out to people that we are here and that we are responding to cruelty in the county, we’re hoping that people will know that they need to start cleaning up their act, because there are a lot of situations that are very bad. We’ve got a lot of animals that are being made to live outside without shelter or water,” said Noah Turner, director of the Ohio SPCA Humane Shelter on Elida Road.
Turner’s been the director since the beginning of the year but has experience in investigating animal abuse cases for more than a decade.
“The Ohio SPCA takes cruelty reports from all over the state. In most of the areas, we don’t have jurisdiction, so we work with local law enforcement or local humane societies to make sure something gets done about the issue. Here in Allen County, we have several cruelty investigators that go out.”
“Most of the cases that we get are animals that don’t have shelter, they don’t have food or water, they have been neglected by not having proper vet care. A lot of the times when we go out on a property, we will request that they take their animal to a vet. We will request they have their animal groomed if the animal is severely matted to the point it has fecal and urine burns on its body. We always try to work with the owners to keep that animal in its home and improve that animal’s life in that home and to bring it all up to the Ohio Revised Code. If we can not get that person to do what they need to do to be complying with the Ohio Revised Code in accordance to animal laws, that’s when we take additional steps to get a warrant and actually remove that animal,” said Turner.
Dealing with extreme neglect
“I’ve had to remove animals from trailers that are tilted on their side. They have four or five inches of fecal matter caked throughout the inside. Not only are the animals in a very bad environment, but the people that live there are also living in very bad conditions as well. A lot of times when we go in to help the animals, we also have to help the people as well,” said Turner.
Recently they treated Earl, a Chihuahua mix, that was suffering after his collar became embedded in his neck.
Another dog, Wild Bill, a St. Bernard, was brought in after being discovered outside, locked up with an elephant chain and three padlocks.
“Animals, for a lot of people, are considered property. They’re not considered part of their family. They’re a status symbol or they’re something to make them look cool. We have a lot of pit bulls in Allen County, and a lot of them get surrendered and that’s because people, I think, get them for the wrong reasons and then they realize they can’t handle that animal,” said Turner.
Turner acknowledges pit bulls are being used for dog fighting in Allen County.
“We don’t know of any current things happening right now, but we know that dog fighting is alive and well. Most of the time, it’s probably somebody in their basement and it’s not a recurring thing, but it’s definitely going on. It’s one of the reasons why we always tell people they need to keep their animals in the house when they’re not home because people will steal their dog to use them as bait,” said Turner.
Dealing with animal abuse in the City of Lima
Nicole Smith is the assistant prosecutor for the City of Lima. Of the animal abuse and neglect cases she and the city do prosecute, many more go unreported.
“Animal abuse is a problem that is not as reported as it should be. I’m sure we have more cases where people are abusing animals, and you see pictures of it on Facebook, but until something is reported to the authorities and we have the ability to identify the abuser, we can’t prosecute,” said Smith.
Animal abuse crimes could range from a minor misdemeanor to a fifth-degree felony.
“A felony could be community control sanctions [with] imprisonment possible but not likely, but for a minor misdemeanor, it’s just a fine. Then we have cases that are misdemeanors of the second degree, which could have 90 days of incarceration up to $750 fine. A misdemeanor of the first degree is up to 180 days of incarceration and up to $1,000 fine, and generally in animal cases, the prosecutor’s office will ask for a time of suspended sentence. That way, we could place that person on probation and have a prohibition banning them from owning any animals for five years,” said Smith.
The charges themselves could be cruelty to animals, abandoning animals, injuring animals, poisoning an animal or prohibitions concerning companion animals.
“The most common ones we get are generally cases where an animal has died due to starvation or lack of proper care. We see those cases more prevalent, especially during the winter months. Sometimes it’s companion animal cases where it’s a dog or a cat, and we have had some where it’s livestock that the humane society has been involved with — horses that are malnourished and you can see their ribs and their coats aren’t taken care of, they’ve not been shod properly,” she said.
Putnam County Dog Warden deals with animal abuse complaints alone
Since there is no humane society in Putnam County, the dog warden has to handle animal enforcement as well as pet adoptions. Mike Schroth doesn’t have volunteers helping him deal with the complaints he gets throughout the year.
“The typical complaint especially during the summer months is no water, and also no food throughout the entire year, but then during winter months, we also get the same thing of frozen water. Dogs outside should have some sort of better protection. That, I think is the typical one that everyone gets. Not every dog is meant to be an indoor dog. Is it nice for every dog to be an indoor dog? Yes, I think it should be, but you can’t force everyone to have an indoor dog. Some dogs do not like being inside, so they are outside and when you do have, like your Husky that has long hair, and it’s 90 degrees outside, they don’t care. They adjust. They know how to adjust. People complain in the winter months, well this Husky’s outside in the winter months it’s 10 degrees below zero. This is their weather. This is what they enjoy,” said Schroth.
Actual cases of abuse and neglect are easy to distinguish.
“The true actual cases where you see neglect is [the animal is] basically just starved to death where they don’t feed them, they don’t take care of them. I’ve had some that have come in that have two-inch toenails. That’s ridiculous. They’re starting to curl under and the fur is matted. We’ve had some, where we’ve literally had to shave them all the way down because the fur is just so matted and the dog was in so much pain,” he said.
The filing of charges is dependent on the situation.
“I think it depends a lot on how the person reacts. My opinion is we’ll try to file if we can. I am a deputy sheriff, as well, but in the capacity as dog warden, I don’t put the two together. If I need to go out, I might take a deputy sheriff with me just in case. Some people just don’t like you on their property. If they would just surrender the dog to us, then we more than likely won’t file charges,” he said.
He also sees dogs with obvious medical problems.
“I did have a dog come in with a large tumor hanging from it. Literally hanging from it. It was dumped [at the shelter] and obviously whoever owned the dog didn’t bother taking care of it,” Schroth said. “It was the size of a softball hanging from the side of this dog. You felt so bad for it, but it didn’t bother the dog, and luckily for me, Deb’s Dogs in Lima took the dog for me and it turned out to be a wonderful dog.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.