Non-profits in Allen Co. court

Staff reports

LIMA — They’ve been fighting like cats and dogs for months on social media. Now their conflict has moved to the courtroom.

Deborah Helser, of Lima, owner of the non-profit corporation Deb’s Dogs, filed a civil lawsuit in Allen County Common Pleas Court last month against Melissa Bowers, who runs a non-profit that cares for cats and kittens.

Helser’s suit asked the court to prohibit Bowers, also from Lima, from “engaging in false social media postings, communicating or otherwise voicing her false statements” and seeks monetary damages in excess of $25,000.

The owner of Deb’s Dogs claims that over the past year Bowers has “published false statements … reflecting on (Helser’s) character and her organization’s character by bringing her into ridicule, hatred and contempt.”

As a result of the ongoing social media postings made by Bowers, the suit alleges, Helser has “suffered mental anguish, humiliation and a great loss of reputation.”

In part, the lawsuit focuses on the former relationship between Deb’s Dogs and the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institute whereby the local non-profit organization provided dogs to the prison population who would, in turn, train the dogs and prepare them for adoption.

The prison terminated the relationship earlier this year, the lawsuit alleges, “due to a person, residing in Toledo, providing dog food with illegal contraband being contained therein.”

In her suit, Helser claims Bowers “immediately blamed (Helser) and posted on Facebook and social media wherein she blamed (Helser) and was accusatory of the plaintiff bringing illegal contraband into the facility.”

Helser claims in her suit that she “did not participate in any fashion with the smuggling process.”

The Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Allen County Humane Society in September confirmed the termination the dog program at the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution.

Noah Turner, shelter director of the Ohio SPCA-Humane Society shelter in Lima said at that time that the animal programming at the Lima prison was terminated following an incident at the Warren Correctional Institute in Lebanon after a dog that was part of that prison’s programming was found dead in an inmate’s cell.

Cori Smith, deputy warden of special services at Allen-Oakwood, said in September that the decision to terminate the program was that of the SPCA. She made no mention at that time of contraband entering the prison in dog food bags. Calls to the prison seeking comment this week were not returned.

Helser’s attorney sought a temporary restraining order from the court to stop Bowers from making further defamatory remarks on social media. The motion was denied in mid-November, but Bowers has since deleted her Facebook page.

Staff reports

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