LOCAL VOICES: Wrist slaps may end for animal abusers

Dogfighting and animal abuse crimes are gaining national awareness, as NFL star Michael Vick awaits sentencing for charges of gambli
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

Dogfighting and animal abuse crimes are gaining national awareness, as NFL star Michael Vick awaits sentencing for charges of gambling in association with a dogfighting operation.

Vick's case is not an isolated incident. The number of cases being prosecuted may soon be on the rise in Ohio due to the Telling v. City of Toledo case, which was adjudicated in August.

The court's ruling put pit bull regulations back into effect in all of Ohio, after a four-year absence of their enforcement. These regulations include the owner of a pit bull carry liability insurance for any damages, injuries or deaths that might be caused by the dog, and that they take any other measures necessary to ensure their dog is not a harm to society.

Erie County Humane Officer Barb Knapp says the case "has opened the door for us to go back to enforcing." With such regulations in effect, fewer people will have access to pit bulls and incidents of dogfighting will begin to decrease.

Knapp states although pit bull regulations are helpful, she and the police department face many other challenges when trying to prosecute animal abuse offenders.

When Knapp goes to view the house and animals in question, most of the people cooperate, as many animal cruelty cases are a result of ignorance on the owner's behalf. The challenge comes in when people refuse to let her view their property.

"Without a warrant, there is no way for me to check on the complaints I receive, and because most callers prefer to remain anonymous, a warrant is usually very hard to obtain," explains Knapp.

Detective Mark Volz of the Sandusky Police Department confirms Knapp's claims.

"People are afraid to give their identities when they report evidence of dogfighting. They fear acts of revenge on their families and their homes," he said.

Gaining access into the suspect's home does not guarantee an arrest either.

"I've seen dogs with what appears to be fighting scars on their faces and bodies, and the owner claims that the dog was bitten by another animal, " said Volz.

He goes on to say it's hard to prove physical evidence is actually evidence without the presence of an eyewitness.

Even with enough evidence for an arrest, there is no guarantee dogfighting and animal abuse offenders will face charges. Amy Porter, Director of the Humane Society of Erie County, explains why these people are so rarely prosecuted.

"It's difficult to prove intent when crimes [of animal abuse] are not severe, and people rarely show up for court dates when they are charged," she said.

For those who do show up for court, there is yet one more way to avoid charges. According to the Ohio Revised Code, most animal cruelty charges are considered misdemeanors, ranging from the fourth to the first degrees, and dogfighting offenses are categorized as felonies of the fourth degree.

The penalties for all of these offenses are a minimum of 30 days in jail and a fine, with each subsequent offense carrying a harsher penalty.

However, most people facing animal cruelty charges are facing charges on other offenses as well.

"There are a lot of cases where the offender is facing drug trafficking charges as well, and when a person does to prison on felony charges, misdemeanors are thrown aside," Volz said.

What this means is when offenders are released from prison on other charges, they are once again free to possess and abuse animals, since nothing on their record prevents them from doing so.

Porter says the situation is totally unfair.

"It's difficult to prosecute people, and the only thing we can do is remove the dog from the home. Usually by that time it's too late, and the animal has to be euthanized," she said.

With the recent Michael Vick case, punishments for these offenders may become more stringent.

As Knapp states, "It they know they can get away with it, my work and that of the police department is useless."

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Kaufman is a Sandusky resident and journalism student at BGSU Firelands