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Ohio’s in line for stricter laws against animal abuse

Published: Fri, February 13, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Ohio’s in line for stricter laws against animal abuse

It’s been tried before and failed, but that is no reason to give up.

It is passage of an Ohio law that would elevate acts of extreme animal abuse to a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.

The most recent attempt at toughening abuse statutes was a bill introduced in the last session of the Legislature by state Reps. Courtney Combs, R-54th, and Brian Williams, D-41st. The legislation died in committee last March.

This month, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and City Prosecutor Jay Macejko asked state Reps. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, and Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, to introduce a similar bill.

The need for tougher laws became a Youngstown issue after seven dead and 12 starving dogs were discovered in October at High Caliber K-9, a kennel on Coitsville-Hubbard Road. Through a variety of missteps, the owner, Steve Croley got off with just four months in jail. Only four misdemeanor charges were pursued, and through a plea bargain he got off with less than the maximum sentence on those.

Had the law provided for felony charges, prosecutors would have been in a position to drive a harder bargain.

The penalty now for first-degree misdemeanor animal cruelty is up to six months in jail. If a fifth-degree felony is added to the law, the penalty would be six months to one year in prison.

Three-pronged attack

An advocacy group for stronger penalties, the Coalition for Animal Justice, says there are three weak links in the justice system that need to be strengthened.

Investigation: Animal cruelty investigations are usually not handled by the police. They are handled by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or animal control officers who are not necessarily trained or focused on pursuing criminal charges against animal abusers.

Prosecution: Too few prosecutors vigorously pursue conviction in animal abuse cases or seek the toughest penalties provided by law.

Sentencing: The maximum sentences for cruel and intentional violent crimes against animals do not fit the crime in severe cases, and the minimum sentences amount to a slap on the wrist.

Ohio is one of a minority of states that does not provide for a felony charge on a first instance of animal abuse, regardless of how cruel or extreme the case may be. That should change.

Ohio lawmakers might also consider the established link that’s been found between animal abuse by young people and later acts of violence or cruelty against people. Requiring psychological evaluation of juveniles who are found to have tortured animals would be to the benefit of the juveniles, their families and society at-large.

The only good that could come out of the abuse and death of the dogs Steve Croley was supposed to be caring for would be an animal protection law that would bring Ohio into line with most other states.

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