By Susan Tebben
A Berlin Center woman pleaded not guilty to leaving animals in unacceptable living conditions at her arraignment in Mahoning County Area Court here.
Heather Culver, 21, of 4530 Weaver Road, entered her plea Thursday. She is charged with 28 counts of second-degree prohibitions concerning abandoned animals. The counts are all misdemeanors, but carry maximum sentences of a 90-day jail sentence and $750 in fines for each count.
Humane agents raided her home March 6. She was using a portion of a her property as a kennel, and she does have a kennel license.
A pretrial conference was set in the case for 11:30 a.m. April 4 in Sebring court. Culver remains free on a $50,000 recognizance bond.
Outside the courthouse, members of “Nitro’s Ohio Army” rallied to bring attention to Nitro’s Law, an Ohio House bill that would bring the penalty for animal cruelty up to a fifth-degree misdemeanor.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, passed the House in 2012 but was not voted on in the Senate. It is named after a dog in Youngstown who died as a result of being tortured in 2008 at a kennel. Gerberry has re-introduced the bill for this legislative session.
“Any opportunity we can find to do a peaceful protest, we will,” said Mary Ellen Reinhart, who was at the rally. “They [legislators] need to hear us that we need to make these laws stricter.”
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, briefly attended the rally as a supporter of the law.
“He said he feels like it’s a good year for this law, and people need to know how important this is,” Reinhart said of Schiavoni’s visit.
Bill supporters visit courts throughout the state about animal cruelty, passing out fliers and information about Nitro’s Law. They plan to attend Culver’s pretrial in April.
“The animals have no voice, and they need us to speak for them,” Reinhart said.