As residents of the Mahoning Valley were trying to understand how an individual in the business of caring for dogs could allow seven to die of starvation and 12 to barely survive, officials responsible for enforcing cruelty to animal laws were embroiled in a jurisdictional dispute.
The owners of the dead and starving dogs discovered at High Caliber K-9 on Coitsville-Hubbard Road in Youngstown deserve better. The emotional turmoil they’re experiencing should not be exacerbated by bureaucratic flaws. We would hope there isn’t a repeat of what has occurred.
Rather than 19 counts of animal cruelty being filed against High Caliber K-9 owner Steve Croley, Youngstown city Prosecutor Jay Macejko filed charges relating to only four dogs. Why? Because Macejko concluded that Animal Charity humane agents had illegally entered the private property. As a result, the prosecutor concluded that he could cite Croley only for the four dogs that were seen from adjoining property by the agents before they used bolt cutters to gain access to High Caliber.
Had Animal Charity secured a search warrant through Macejko, then whatever agents found in the dog kennel would have been used to build the case against the owner.
The irony is that civilians can act to save animals in distress but agents acting on behalf of the state must follow the law if they expect criminal charges to be filed, the prosecutor says.
Therein lies the problem. There is something wrong when individuals, such as Animal Charity agents Kyle Zeigler and Joe Borosky, who are dedicated to protecting harmless animals, find themselves shackled by state laws that do not apply to ordinary citizens.
It should be pointed out that Nikole Owen, chief executive officer of Animal Charity, does not agree with Macejko’s reading of the law. Owen contends that her agents acted appropriately and, therefore, Croley should be charged with the 19 counts of animal cruelty. He has been arraigned on the four.
The dog kennel owner has said he could not afford to feed and look after the dogs that were kept in his care by their owners. He also said he cannot afford a lawyer.
But before taxpayers are required to foot the bill for a court-appointed lawyer, the prosecutor’s office should determine what happened to all the money that Croley’s clients paid in advance when they dropped off their dogs at the kennel.
Case in point: A couple from New York whose 3-year-old Rottweiler died of starvation say they paid more than $2,000 and also provided three months of food and vitamins when they left their dog for obedience training.
The couple read about the dead and starving dogs on Vindy.com, The Vindicator’s Web site, and came to Youngstown for their pet. They not only found out that he had died, but his weight had dropped from 105 pounds in late June to 50 pounds.
They have hired a lawyer.
There is a larger issue here than just the alleged criminal behavior of one individual. For many people, a pet is member of the family and leaving the animal in the care of an outsider requires a high level of trust. Therefore, standards that apply to such businesses must be strictly enforced.
The message must go out that mistreatment of animals will not be taken lightly.