By Robert Guttersohn
Deana and Ray Housteau of Canfield, both lifelong residents of the Mahoning Valley and owners of four dogs, say the recent rash of violence toward animals is the worst that they’ve seen.
And they are not alone.
In an interview with The Vindicator, Mahoning County Dog Warden Matt Ditchey said he’s never seen the number of extreme dog-cruelty cases in such a short time in the region.
And though the warden and the Animal Charity Humane Society in Boardman hope a single perpetrator is responsible for the cases in Youngstown, they have yet to find a link connecting five incidents in two weeks involving seven dogs.
“We hope there aren’t that many sick people walking around doing this,” said Talia Musolino, office manager of the humane society.
“One part of me hopes it is one bad person,” Ditchey said. “Another part of me hopes it’s one bad person and that the dog with the missing leg is just a horrible accident.”
The first two dogs, puppies, were found Jan. 30 in a grassy median in front of the Western Reserve Transit Authority terminal on Federal Street. The two German shepherd pups had string tied around their necks that strangled the pair as they struggled to free themselves, Ditchey said.
Another dog was found Feb. 1 on the North Side near Ohio Avenue and Tod Lane. The pit bull was stuffed inside a blue plastic garbage can and thrown into a ravine. Initially, officials thought the dog was shot to death but a necropsy performed on the dog revealed the holes were bite marks, not bullet holes, leading investigators to believe it was killed during a dog-fighting match.
Last Monday, two dogs were tossed from the Interstate 680 overpass onto East Midlothian Boulevard. They survived, and officials said if there is any connection among the cases, they believe the I-680 incident is not connected to the others.
Two subsequent incidents were both discovered in the Salt Springs Road corridor on the city’s industrial West Side:
Last Wednesday, officials found near Oneta Avenue at Salt Springs Road a young black Labrador retriever with its right rear leg and part of its tail chopped off. That dog survived, has undergone surgery and will be adopted soon.
That same day officials found a dog with its leash wrapped around a tree branch in a secluded area just south of the Ohio Works Drive cul de sac, near Salt Springs Road. A necropsy — an autopsy on an animal — performed by the humane society on Wednesday determined the dog was likely abandoned and left to starve to death, not hanged, Musolino said.
Then Thursday, two dogs were found shot to death near Salineville in Columbiana County, near the area where another dog previously was found stabbed and hanging from a tree.
Jan Palmer, a humane agent there, said officials believe those two cases are likely related. She also noted that her agency has had more of these types of cases in the past six months than in the last four years.
Going back to about Jan. 21, Ditchey said another dog was found tied up by string near Mahoning and Lakeview avenues, again on Youngstown’s West Side.
But there is hope in tying loose ends in one case.
Although Ditchey would not go into detail regarding the case of the German Shepherd pups, he did say the trail for the perpetrator is still hot.
“We are actively pursuing some good leads,” Ditchey said. “It’s definitely not a cold trail.”
For the others, Ditchey said everyone investigating is very frustrated that each case has not been solved.
He said often an animal abuser is a habitual offender and the abuse often goes beyond an animal to a child, spouse or whoever is weak enough to take it.
“Everyday we think, where’s the next dog going to be, or will it be a child,” Ditchey said.
The key is figuring out where the dogs came from, Ditchey said. So far, officials have not determined if the dogs were stolen or possibly owned by the perpetrator. Linking that information could open a door in the investigation.
“If anybody out there notices a neighbor’s dog suddenly missing, don’t feel s illy calling in,” Ditchey said.
And it’s information Deana and Ray Housteau hoped for when they put up a $1,000 reward for knowledge regarding the abuse cases.
The reward was posted on Facebook after the couple who appeared in Season 7 of CBS-TV’s “The Amazing Race” in 2005 saw the Labrador with the missing leg, and the community responded by adding more money to the pot.
Deana Housteau said Friday the reward was up to $3,400, leading them to start a Paypal account that will be linked to a special bank account.
And they are expecting more money to come.
“We’re getting a lot of messages,” Deana Housteau said. “We’re surprised at how many in the community have responded. We had no idea the number of dog lovers in the area.”
Several other funds also have been established, and Youngstown Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to a conviction in any of the abuse cases. To give information anonymously, dial 330-746-CLUE.