By Marc Kovac
Tom Siesto held up a small box for state lawmakers to see.
Inside, he said, were the cremated remains of his beloved family dog Nitro, a Rottweiler that died as a result of extreme neglect by a Youngstown kennel operator.
The dog and others were starved to death.
“When the humane agent opened the black body bag, that image will be forever burned in my brain,” an emotional Siesto said Wednesday. “My once-105-pound Rottweiler was curled up in a fetal position with bones sticking out everywhere, his nail split open from trying to escape the living hellhole which he was imprisoned in, his once warm brown eyes filled with his love and trust for us now dead and lifeless staring back at me.”
He added, “My defenseless dog, my poor boy, my pride and joy … How could this happen?”
Siesto provided proponent testimony Wednesday before the House’s Criminal Justice committee on House Bill 108, which would allow stiffer criminal penalties against kennels that abuse or neglect animals in their care.
Democratic state Reps. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, and Bob Hagan, of Youngstown, D-60th, offered the legislation in response to an October 2008 incident in which humane agents found 19 dogs suffering starvation at the High Caliber K-9 on Coitsville-Hubbard Road. Eight of those animals died, Siesto said.
The kennel operator initially faced 19 counts of cruelty to animals, but the charges were later reduced to four with misdemeanor penalties.
The owner subsequently filed for bankruptcy, thus avoiding civil penalties in the matter.
The legislation is being called “Nitro’s Law,” after Siesto’s dog.
“Due to the current animal-cruelty laws in Ohio, Nitro and his fellow companions never received the justice they deserved,” Siesto said. “The scales of justice were tilted in favor of the criminal that committed these horrific acts — only four months jail time.”
The legislation would make it illegal for kennel owners to abuse or neglect pets.
Those found guilty of doing so could face felony charges, and judges could place prohibitions or limitations on their future ability to operate kennels.
The bill would cover “companion animals,” defined as any animal that is kept inside a residential dwelling or any dog or cat regardless of where it lives, according to an analysis by the state’s Legislative Service Commission.
Comparable legislation passed the Ohio House last session on a split vote but died in the Ohio Senate. Supporters are hoping the two chambers will move on the bill this session.
Siesto said: “Crimes against defenseless animals are the same types of crimes done to defenseless children and other fellow humans ... It is our duty as human beings to protect those that cannot protect themselves.”