By Marc Kovac
Republicans in the Ohio Senate have inserted language into the state budget that would increase penalties against kennel owners who abuse animals in their care.
However, the amendment does not include all of the language from Nitro’s Law, legislation introduced multiple times in recent years in response to incident at a Youngstown kennel that resulted in the death of more than a dozen dogs, including the bills’ namesake Rottweiler.
The new budget amendment would allow felony criminal charges against kennel owners or employees who “knowingly” torture, torment, needlessly mutilate or maim, cruelly beat, poison, needlessly kill or commit an act of cruelty against the companion animal.
But it allows only misdemeanor charges against those who “negligently” do the same or deprive animals of food and water.
State Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, who has introduced Nitro’s Law in each of the past three sessions, said that’s where the Senate language differs from his legislation. As written, it would not lead to increased criminal charges against kennel owners such as the one in Youngstown, who killed the dogs in his care.
“You’re saying you can starve a dog and get a misdemeanor,” Gerberry said, adding, “It’s not Nitro’s Law. It drastically altered the intent of what we did.”
His legislation would allow felony charges for all instances of abuse and neglect.
Senate President Keith Faber of Celina, R-12th, indicated that that majority caucus was not in favor of the legislation passed by the House, including setting starvation or dehydration of pets as a felony offense.
“The issue is whether or not that ought to be a felony to begin with,” Faber said. “A felony for the intentional act [by] the kennel owners is something that frankly we begrudgingly agreed to. ... There were a bunch of, in the version passed by the House, things that we just couldn’t understand.”
He added, “The issue at hand was a kennel owner that intentionally was cruel and abused animals. ... Our members that felt that was appropriate to be a felony- type charge, although arguably they might get more jail time for misdemeanors, with the presumption of no jail time for [fourth- and fifth-degree felonies].”
Nitro was among more than a dozen dogs found dead or dying from extreme neglect in 2008 at the High Caliber K-9 kennel on Coitsville- Hubbard Road.
“They starved those animals; they dehydrated them,” Gerberry said. “That’s how they killed them. They tortured them by not feeding them.”
The owner of the business faced a few misdemeanor convictions and subsequently filed for bankruptcy, avoiding additional civil penalties.
The legislation has received bipartisan support over the past two sessions of the Legislature but has fallen short of passage each time. It passed the Ohio House last month.
“Am I disappointed in the way it’s in the budget? Yes,” Gerberry said of the Senate amendment. “We’re going to see if we can work it out. ... We’re going to try to do the best we can to correct it.”
Asked whether Nitro’s Law would move as separate legislation, Faber said, “I think this takes care of the issue that was brought up.”