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Ohio Animal Law

As Temperatures Drop, a Reminder about Shelter Requirements

With the temperature in the teens for the next few days, we’re sending out a reminder about shelter requirements for companion animals pursuant to state code!

Cleveland enacted new animal neglect ordinances in December 2014, which were then enacted by several other localities. Those ordinances provide bright-line rules about what qualifies as appropriate shelter and higher penalties for violations. For cities that have not enacted stricter sheltering guidelines, state code governs.

Ohio Revised Code § 959.131(D)(3) provides that no person who is the custodian or caretaker of a companion animal shall negligently do the following:

“impound or confine the companion animal without affording it. during the impoundment or confinement, with access to shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the lack of adequate shelter.”

There is qualifying language to the shelter requirement — “if it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer in any other way as a result of or due to the lack of adequate shelter.”

This is a *proactive* statute that can be used in situations where the companion animal is provided with shelter, but that shelter is inadequate considering the extreme temperatures and due to that lack or inadequacy of shelter, the animal could reasonably be expected to suffer. Evidence of suffering is not a necessary element of this crime. The statute provides humane agents (or other law enforcement) with the proactive ability to seize an animal so that the animal does not have to suffer.

Some considerations for humane agents include the adequacy of the shelter in current winter conditions, any visible signs of suffering (such as “flipper walking” or shivering), the breed of dog or type of animal, and how long the animal has been confined outside.

Since R.C. § 959.131(D)(3) defines cruelty as the negligent confinement of a companion animal to a shelter in a manner in which it can reasonably be expected that the companion animal would become sick or suffer, and R.C. § 959.132 provides the authority for a humane agent to take possession of an animal cruelly treated, those two statutes authorize a humane officer to rescue animals from such conditions.

Moreover, some municipalities have ordinances prohibiting chaining or tethering that apply in these circumstances.

Of course, every shelter situation is different and law enforcement should consult with legal counsel and/or veterinary staff as needed.

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Three Bills Signed into Law Concerning Animals’ Protections

Governor John Kasich recently signed three important bills into law that concern protections for this state’s animals. Here is a brief summary of each bill:

(1) SB 215: Grants good faith rescuers immunity from civil liability for damages incurred while using necessary force to enter a locked motor vehicle to help an animal or minor child who is in imminent danger of suffering harm. Rescuers must follow certain steps before and after breaking into a vehicle, which include making a good faith effort to contact law enforcement first, contacting law enforcement after the animal/child has been removed from the vehicle, and leaving information on the vehicle that notifies the owner of the rescuer’s contact information, location of the animal/child, and that authorities have been notified. The rescuer must also remain with the animal/child in a safe location until law enforcement or emergency responders arrive.

(2) HB 60 (“Goddard’s Law”): Makes knowingly causing serious physical harm to a companion animal (a cat, dog, or other animal living in a residential dwelling) chargeable as a fifth degree felony. Under current law, offenders can only be charged with a fifth degree felony for a second act of “knowing” companion animal cruelty or if the offender is an owner, manager, or employee of a dog kennel that commits a first act of “knowing” companion animal cruelty.

HB 60 also allows humane societies to use fines awarded through animal cruelty convictions to provide additional training for existing humane agents, increases the penalties for killing a police dog or horse, and requires development of resources that will help veterinarians identify clients that use animals to improperly obtain opioid drugs.

Unfortunately, HB 60 was amended to prohibit humane societies, the main enforcers of Ohio’s animal protection laws, from using an appointed animal cruelty prosecutor to handle these new felony cases.

(3) HB 187: Allows certain emergency responders to provide basic, stabilizing care to an injured dog or cat before they are transferred to a veterinarian for treatment. HB 187 protects those responders from civil liability and criminal prosecution if they acted in good faith and without willful misconduct. Veterinarians are also protected from liability or professional disciplinary action as a result of care provided by an emergency responder.

Each law will go into effect 90 days after its signing.

Animal law

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Goddard’s Law (HB 60) Summary After Amendment – Ohio Animal Cruelty Bill

Goddard’s Law was originally introduced in 2013 as House Bill 274. Reintroduced in 2015 as House Bill 60, Goddard’s Law has undergone significant changes from its original form. Here is a summary chart of Goddard’s Law as passed by the House and under consideration by the Senate: Holland & Muirden’s Summary of Goddard’s Law

As drafted, an amendment to this bill weakens the ability of our local humane societies to enforce animal cruelty laws and may actually stop humane societies from prosecuting felony animal cruelty altogether. The bill no longer covers egregious acts of neglect, such as starvation and failure to provide veterinary treatment, that result in the animal’s death. If you support felony provisions for the most egregious acts of animal cruelty, contact your Senator and ask them to support the language and intent of House Bill 274.

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Did the FBI Make all Animal Cruelty a Felony?

A New Category–The FBI Defines Animal Cruelty as a “Felony”

Animal cruelty has long been categorized as a “general” crime by the FBI. The FBI, like Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (Ohio BCI) collects crime reports and organizes them by category. These reports come directly from law enforcement or courts post-conviction; they are not generated by citizens. Recently, the FBI announced it would begin treating animal cruelty crimes as “Class A felonies,” the same as arson, assault, and homicide, and that it would begin specifically tracking crimes committed against animals (animal cruelty).

Accordingly, on January 1, 2016, the FBI began categorizing animal cruelty offenses as “crimes against society,” in four distinct categories–neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (dog fighting/cock fighting), and sexual abuse.

The FBI defines cruelty to animals as “Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.” The FBI definition does not include crimes committed negligently, such as Ohio Revised Code 959.131(c), the companion animal cruelty code.

Animal Cruelty Crimes Are Not All Felonies in Ohio

The meaning of the new FBI classification has been widely misunderstood. The new FBI mechanism for tracking these crimes does not change the penalty classification of animal cruelty crimes in Ohio. It does not make animal cruelty crimes a felony or a federal crime. The FBI will not be investigating local reports of animal cruelty or providing funding to our local Humane Societies or Police. Animal cruelty crimes should still be reported to local law enforcement for investigation. By updating its tracking, the FBI has simply acknowledged that these particular crimes are serious and deserve a closer look.

 In most states, most cruelty is still treated as a misdemeanor. Most animal cruelty crimes in Ohio are second degree misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $750 and 90 days in jail. Ohio has two first-offense felony animal cruelty crimes. First, dog fighting. Second, knowing animal abuse committed against a companion animal by a dog kennel owner, manager, or employee (Nitro’s Law). A second offense of knowing animal cruelty committed against a companion animal is a felony.

While the new FBI classification has no effect on penalties for animal cruelty crimes, the tracking data is used by criminologists, law enforcement, and researchers to analyze trends and, hopefully, prevent future crime.

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Sentencing for Youngstown animal neglect case

State v. Akesha Bowman, a case we prosecuted for Animal Charity, the humane society serving Mahoning County.

Bowman was charged with two counts of companion animal cruelty for keeping her dog “Sassy,” (renamed “Hershey,”) in a cage filled with urine and fecal waste. The cage was too small. Sores were observed on the top of her head from rubbing on the bars. She was also emaciated. Bowman pled no contest and was found guilty on both counts.

The dog was forfeited by the Court, and is now doing well in her new home. (Before and after pictures provided below.)

Judge Robert Milich sentenced Bowman to 90 days in jail for each count, consecutive, for a total of 180 days. Jail time is suspended pending completion of 5 years’ probation, the maximum time allowed by law. During that time, she is prohibited from owning or keeping animals, and is subject to inspections by probation or the humane agent to make sure that she is not keeping animals. She was fined $250 plus costs, plus a $100 probation fee for each case, and must complete 80 hours of community service.

bowman photo

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Ohio House Bill 198 Reduces Humane Societies’ Power to Protect Animals

ANIMAL LEGISLATION UPDATE:
HB 198, which abolishes Ohio Humane Societies’ ability to appoint prosecutors to prosecute crimes against animals, was introduced in the Ohio House on 5/11/15. This is the first legislative effort to REDUCE a Humane Society’s ability to protect animals.

Primary Sponsors: Reps. Steve Hambley (R-69) and Greta Johnson (D-35)

Summary: To repeal section 2931.18 of the Revised Code to abolish the humane society’s authority to employ an attorney to prosecute certain violations of law dealing with animal cruelty.

Find your Legislator here: https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislators/find-my-legislators

HB 198 Hurts Animals

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Plaintiffs seek victims of Ohio Shiba Inu breeders “Fallscreek Shibas”

In February 2012, Edita Opluštilová, a resident of the Czech Republic, leased her Shiba Inu breed dog Mája to Tina King Duncan and Les Duncan. The Duncans operate as “Fallscreek Shibas” out of New Vienna, Ohio. The Duncans bred Mája twice and refused to return the dog and her second litter of puppies to Ms. Opluštilová. In December 2014, we accomplished the return of Mája and her puppies. The puppies are pictured below.

We also represent James Moglia of New York and Berry Bolink of the Netherlands, who recently filed suit against the Duncans in Highland County, Ohio. The Plaintiffs in this case purchased three Shiba Inu breed dogs from the Duncans, who hold themselves out to be reputable breeders with healthy, pedigreed Shiba Inu breed dogs of “champion” quality. Despite paying premium prices, the Plaintiffs allege that they never received AKC paperwork for their dogs as promised and also that one dog arrived infected with Giardia.

Similarly, we represented Gullborg Knudsen, a resident of Norway, who purchased a “show quality” Shiba Inu dog from the Duncans in April 2014. Fortunately, the dam and sire in Ms. Knudsen’s case were actually AKC registered, unlike those in some of our other cases. We were finally able to acquire the AKC registration papers for Ms. Knudsen’s dog.

The Duncans were previously located in Idaho (See article: Triple damages awarded in dog dispute).

Moglia and Bolink seek other individuals who are similarly situated. If you have purchased an un-registerable or sick dog, or paid for a dog never received from the Duncans, please contact Dana at dpannella@hmlawohio.com or 330-239-4480.

Shiba Inu dogs Ohio

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Savannah man, Michael Johnson, convicted of starving two dogs

State v. Michael Johnson, a case we prosecuted for the Ashland County Dog Shelter/Dog Warden.

Johnson was charged with animal cruelty related to the starvation of his two Golden Retriever dogs, Laney and Sadie.

The Ashland County Dog Warden visited Johnson’s property when it was reported that a dog had been abandoned there. Sadly, Sadie had already passed away. There was a bag containing dog food in the kitchen, just feet away from where both dogs were confined.

Johnson entered a plea to two counts of animal neglect, both second degree misdemeanors, and was found guilty.

Laney recovered and Johnson surrendered ownership to the Dog Warden today.

Sentencing is set for May 4, 2015.

Golden Retrievers Ohio

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Cleveland woman sentenced for neglect of two dogs

State v. Glenda Murray, a case we prosecuted for the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Glenda Murray was charged related to her neglect of two emaciated, ill dogs tethered without shelter in cold weather. Glenda Murray’s husband, Fuller Murray, who was also charged, is currently serving jail time on felony firearms and assault charges and his animal cruelty case is still awaiting adjudication.

Glenda Murray was found guilty of four counts and was sentenced to the maximum jail term (1 ½ years), all suspended. The suspended time may be imposed if she fails to complete 5 years’ probation. During probation, she is prohibited from owning or keeping any animal. She must also submit to random inspections. Murray must complete 100 hours of community service and pay $230 in restitution to the APL.

Chained dog

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Conviction for possession of cockfighting birds and equipment

State v. Filimon Medina, a case we prosecuted for the Medina County SPCA. This is one of the roosters removed from Mr. Medina’s property. It is common practice among cockfighters to remove the combs and wattles of fighting birds so the animals will not bleed excessively in battle, thus weakening them and possibly interfering with their ability to see.

While Mr. Medina was not caught in the act of cockfighting, he was charged and convicted in the Medina Municipal Court of two counts of possession of criminal tools for possessing altered roosters, sparring muffs, various drugs and veterinary supplies commonly used in cockfighting, keep pens, tie out ropes and shipping boxes.

Ironically, possession of criminal tools is a 1st degree misdemeanor, while cockfighting is only a misdemeanor of the 4th degree in Ohio. Mr. Medina forfeited all seized birds, will pay a $400 fine plus costs, and may serve 90 days in jail if he violates the terms of his probation, which includes a prohibition against possessing altered birds and random inspections.

rooster medina

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