Kennel owner going to jail for starving dogs

Croley Sentenced

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By Patricia Meade

The defendant had no statement for the judge.

YOUNGSTOWN — The healthy barks of a police dog served as a backdrop for the sentencing of a kennel operator who allowed dogs to starve to death at High Caliber K-9.

Steve Croley, 38, after appearing 40 minutes late to municipal court Thursday, was sentenced to four months in jail on four counts of animal cruelty. Below Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr.’s third-floor courtroom, the barks of Detective Sgt. Frank Rutherford’s dog rose from the police parking lot as Croley and his lawyer stood in front of the judge. Rutherford was in municipal court on another matter, and the dog waited for him in their cruiser.

In addition to jail, Judge Douglas, who said he found it hard “to understand what happened, why it happened,” ordered that Croley pay restitution of $1,796 and serve three years’ probation, during which time he is not allowed to own or harbor any animal. He was also fined $1,000 and has six months to pay the fine and restitution.

Croley received credit for the 13 days he spent in jail until he posted bail. He will report to the Mahoning County jail at 6 p.m. Friday.

On Oct. 22, seven dead and 12 starving dogs were found at High Caliber K-9, 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road. Croley was arrested that day.

He reached a plea agreement in December and pleaded no contest to the animal-cruelty charges. Two housing violations related to the condition of the High Caliber K-9 property were dismissed.

Croley’s lawyer, Heidi Hanni, told the judge that her client is very sorry and remorseful, noting he lost his business. She said he made poor decisions, adding he had been in the process of a divorce.

For the “terrible atrocities with these animals” she said he is “very, very sorry.”

Croley made no statement to the judge.

In the gallery, a New York couple whose dog, Nitro, starved to death at the kennel, watched the proceeding, as did representatives of Animal Charity, a humane agency on South Avenue. Nitro’s owners left quickly after the sentencing.

Of the restitution Croley must pay, $1,646 is owed to Animal Charity, which rescued emaciated dogs from the property. The other $150 in restitution is payable to the owners of one dog who died.

When taken into custody three months ago, Croley told a representative of Animal Charity that he could not afford to feed the animals. After the arrest, dog owners came forward to say they paid him in advance.

“We feel good about the decision,” Nikole Owen, Animal Charity chief executive officer, said after court. “Initially we thought he would not receive jail time.”

She said her agency will monitor Croley, once he’s out of jail, to make sure he doesn’t own an animal.

Still pending for Croley is a rent dispute for the kennel property at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road. Matt Akendead of Virginia, who owns the property, filed a complaint in municipal court asking for past due rent of $3,500. He said in court Tuesday that Croley and his wife failed to pay rent from May through November.

Croley contends that he and Akenhead were business partners and no rent is owed. Akenhead denied being partners with Croley.

Magistrate Tony Sertick said eviction was a moot point because Croley no longer resides at the address. The magistrate then gave Croley time to hire a lawyer and will schedule another hearing to resolve the rent dispute.

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