A couple who had 52 dogs removed from poor conditions in their Ashland home was convicted Thursday of animal cruelty charges.
Thomas Morris and Kelleigh Dotson each pleaded guilty in Ashland Municipal Court to 10 counts: Five counts of animal cruelty and five counts of depriving animals of necessary sustenance, all second-degree misdemeanors. Judge John Good ordered a pre-sentence investigation (which will include a review of their background and criminal history) and scheduled another court hearing for July 27.
Each count carries up to 90 days in jail and up to a $750 fine.
Between Feb. 19 and 21, city police assisted the Ashland County dog warden and the Ashland County Humane Society with collecting the dogs from the couple’s home at 242 W. Main St. At the time, humane society Director Tiffany Meyer said the owners voluntarily surrendered their dogs.
Prosecuting the case for the Humane Society, Jeff Holland is recommending no jail time.
“The defendants did surrender all the animals, have accepted responsibility,” he said. “Our priority has been to rescue the animals from inappropriate behavior, change behavior. The only thing that we’re concerned about is that they do not possess, own or live in a residence with any animals. And if that can be verified by their local county humane society or their local law enforcement, that would be sufficient for the state of Ohio.”
Morris and Dotson have moved to another Ohio county.
During the arraignment Thursday, Holland paraphrased the report from Dr. Kristine LaFever, a veterinarian called to the scene by police to examine the dogs. Holland said LaFever observed the home’s floors covered in feces and urine, the majority of the dogs emaciated and dehydrated and many suffering from obvious wounds and hair loss. LaFever reported that many of the animals had scars on their ears and that a few dogs were obese, indicating the dogs were fed as a pack and had to fight over limited resources. The owners indicated to LaFever that they believed the state of the dogs was normal and did not seek veterinary care because there were too many.
Holland said body camera footage from one of the officers shows a dog fight breaking out. Morris can be seen in the video beating dogs to try to break up the fight, he said.
Morris and Dotson declined to comment after their court hearing.
The Ashland County Humane Society said Thursday that all but two of the 16 dogs that remain in the organization’s care have been adopted. The other 36 were taken in by the Geauga Humane Society Rescue Village, Cleveland Animal Protective League and Portage Animal Protective League.