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Friends of Nitro must unite to enact animal justice soon

Published: Wed, March 6, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Tens of thousands of animal lovers throughout Ohio and around the world are sick and tired of the stonewalling, politicking and other assorted chicanery that for five years have thwarted passage of Nitro’s Law in the state Legislature.

Their outrage is justified.

Now that state Rep. Ronald Gerberry, an Austintown Democrat, has introduced for the third time since 2009 a bill to make extreme animal abuse a felony crime in Ohio, those defenders of justice for dogs, cats and other animal companions must channel their outrage toward assured passage of House Bill 90 by the summer recess.

Nitro’s Law origins

Nitro’s Law, as many will recall, originated from a case of horrid abuse in Youngstown in October 2008, when Mahoning County Animal Charity humane agents found seven dead and eight malnourished dogs in the backyard kennel of High Caliber K-9 on Coitsville-Hubbard Road. The bill is named for one of the dogs who died, Nitro, a Rottweiler and a beloved family companion. His owners joined with others in 2009 to form Nitrofoundation.com to work toward legislation that would make such a crime a felony. With only a misdemeanor conviction, the man charged in the animals’ deaths, Steve Croley, received an unconscionably lenient sentence of 30 days in jail and probation.

In the ensuing years, Nitro’s Law died a slow and anguishing death both in December 2010 and December 2012 when the Ohio Legislature failed to carry it to passage before final adjournment of its two-year session. If such insensitive and callous inaction is repeated during this session, the bill will die again. Protectors of animal welfare cannot let that happen.

Momentum for passage builds

This year, however, friends of Nitro are armed with ongoing passion and fresh momentum. Consider:

The bill, now known as House Bill 90, has been introduced in the early days of the General Assembly’s 2013-14 session. The vast majority of state representatives and senators are veteran legislators and therefore familiar with the bill’s provisions. What’s more, based on full House and Senate committee votes in earlier years, most endorse it. That familiarity and popularity should speed up its movement through the many long and winding bureaucratic channels of state lawmaking.

The bill has garnered earlier and stronger bipartisan support. Rep. Cheryl Grossman, a Republican from the Columbus area and majority whip of the House, has joined Gerberry as a primary sponsor. Though animal justice should never be a partisan political issue, her strong support for Nitro’s Law should motivate others whom she leads in the majority GOP to act on the bill expeditiously.

The ranks of supporters for passage of Nitro’s Law have snowballed into a veritable international army. The Nitro Foundation has about 43,000 followers on its Facebook page, mostly from Ohio but with allies from around the world. Savvy politicians would be foolish to ignore or further anger such a large, passionate and united constituency.

Yet despite the seemingly strong odds for passage of Nitro’s Law this year, supporters cannot let their guards down. Despite its sound logic and widespread support, the bill has a long history of neglect. That’s why advocates of animal justice should blanket state legislators, particularly new Senate President Keith Faber and Speaker of the House William Batchelder with letters, emails and petitions (available for download on nitrofoundation.com) to carry the bill quickly to the finish line. We recommend a deadline of June 30.

Once it is passed, and we’re confident it will pass this session, Ohio at long last will remove its stain as one of the few insensitive holdout states that treats its companion animals with injustice and contempt.

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