By Marc Kovac
Senate Republicans are indicating their willingness to amend language included in the biennial budget to crack down on kennel owners who abuse pets in their care.
State Sen. Larry Obhof of Medina, R-22nd, said the chamber’s intent was to allow felony charges for all types of intentional cruelty to dogs, including starving or refusing water to boarded animals.
“That was the intention of the Senate,” said Obhof, who was involved in developing the budget language. “If the House would like us to clarify that further, I don’t think there’s going to be any point of disagreement there.”
The Senate amendment, passed as part of the budget Thursday, differs from Nitro’s Law, separate legislation passed by the Ohio House three times in recent years, most recently last month.
The bills came in response to an incident at a Youngstown kennel that resulted in the death of the proposed law’s namesake Rottweiler and other dogs.
State Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, who has offered Nitro’s Law for three straight legislative sessions, voiced concern that the Senate amendment would not lead to enhanced charges against kennel owners and employees who starve animals in their care.
The 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 a subsequent paragraph allows only misdemeanor charges against those who “negligently” do the same or deprive animals of food and water.
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 earlier this week. “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.
Obhof said the Senate amendment relies on the definition of “cruelty” that’s outlined in another section of Ohio law, which includes “every act, omission or neglect by which unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused, permitted or allowed to continue, where there is a reasonable remedy or relief.”
Under that definition, situations such as the one that occurred in Youngstown should fall under the felony portion of the language added by the Senate, he said.
“Starving an animal would meet that definition,” Obhof said, adding, “I think the consensus was if you’re engaged in the kind of activities that this person in Youngstown was engaged in, this in an appropriate penalty.”
Gerberry said Friday that he and his Republican co-sponsor, Columbus-area Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-23rd, planned to meet next week to develop potential amended language to offer for consideration during conference committee deliberations on the budget.
He added that he would work with Obhof and others on the issue as well.
“We’re going to try to get the provisions of Nitro as close to [the legislation that passed the House last month] as we can,” he said.
Obhof said he planned to ask the county prosecutors’ association about any potential changes to ensure the amendment would have the intended effect of allowing higher criminal penalties.