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Man avoids jail in dog cruelty case

Tom Jackson • Feb 25, 2014 at 7:58 AM

One of Erie County’s better-known animal cruelty cases, involving a German shepherd with a rope embedded in its neck, has ended with the defendant apparently avoiding jail time.

Erie County dog warden Barb Knapp said Monday she’s unhappy that James Ryerson, 58, of Sandusky, didn’t get any jail time.

Even one day in jail would have helped get the point across that cruelty to animals won’t be tolerated, she said.

Ryerson pleaded no contest Thursday in Sandusky Municipal Court to a charge of cruelty to animals.

Court records show Judge Erich O’Brien sentenced Ryerson to 60 days in jail, with 40 suspended. He won’t have to serve the other 20, either, if he pays his fines and stays out of trouble. He was hit with court costs of $92 and a fine of $58, and also ordered to have no dogs for three years — beyond the dog he owns now.

Ryerson was charged after a 2012 incident in which a German shepherd, originally named “Star” and later renamed “Bella,” was found running around with a rope embedded in her neck. The rope had been left around her neck for a long time, and as the dog grew, the rope became embedded in her flesh.

The dog was eventually adopted out to a new owner. The dog warden charged Ryerson, the former owner, with cruelty to animals.

Knapp said the case was one of the worst she’s ever seen, and she believes jail time would have been appropriate.

“Even if it was one overnight stay, at least people would realize there are consequences to hurting animals” she said.

Sandusky city prosecutor Lynne Gast-King said she favored jail time.

“I did recommend jail time in that case. Once they plead to the offense, I have no control over that” she said.

The decision on sentencing was made by the judge, she said.

Ryerson’s attorney, Delten Steltenpohl — a staff attorney in the public defender’s office — said the sentence is appropriate given the facts of the case.

“It’s my understanding the animal made a full and complete recovery,” he said. “He had no intention of harming the animal. I don’t think it was an overt act. I think it was a careless act”

O’Brien said he had no immediate comment.

Trial has not been scheduled yet in another Sandusky animal case, involving two pit bulls that attacked a Sandusky man and his pet dog.

Sandusky police intervened when Scooter, a Jack Russell, and his owner, Paul Aviles, were allegedly attacked without provocation in April 2013 in Sandusky’s Battery Park by two pit bulls owned by Rebecca Hush, 42, Sandusky.

One of the dogs died after being zapped with a Taser. The other was taken to the dog pound and later returned to Hush. Aviles and Scooter were both injured and had to obtain medical treatment.

Hush is charged with “dog at large” in connection with the case.

A pretrial conference was held in November, but a trial date hasn’t yet been set.

The trial will likely be held in July or August, said Mary Albert, assignment clerk for Sandusky Municipal Court.

Aviles has said he feels Hush should be required to cover the cost of his medical bills.

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