Man avoids jail in dog cruelty case

Dog warden unhappy with sentence given to owner of German shepherd with rope embedded in neck
Tom Jackson
Feb 25, 2014


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.


mimi's word

And we wonder why it continues. Judge O'Brien you should be ashamed of yourself and this verdict.


Unbelievable. Who paid for the treatment and care that this animal got?

When I saw no jail time, I was like ok, he has a huge fine, to cover the vet bill and recovery, no such thing.

Disgusting. I've paid more for a speeding ticket.

everyday joe

What a missed opportunity to make an example out of someone and to show that animal cruelty wont be tolerated. Shame on you Judge O'Brien.


Good for you Ms. Knapp! This verdict DISGUSTS me! It is time to punish those who abuse animals~There are too many HORRIBLE things going on with our animals and needs to be STOPPED and NOW! Until they make animal abuse a felony in Ohio~like other states~this type of behavior WILL continue. Judge O'Brien~YOU have just lost ALL of my respect for you! You are too "easy" with people who DESERVE more!!


It's bad enough that Ohio still doesn't take charges of animal cruelty as seriously as warranted, but now the judge won't even throw the inadequate maximum at this heartless jerk? I second Behappy: You just lost any respect I might have had for you by letting this guy off easy. The poor dog didn't have it quite so lucky (though I'm hoping Bella now has a truly kind and loving forever home)!


Put a rope around his neck and send the guy to jail.


PATHETIC...$150.00 total that he has to pay and 3 years with no dog, and he gets to keep the dog he has?! DISGUSTING...

Julie R.

Judge O'Brien said he had no immediate comment.

Do they ever?


I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here - and I'm ready for the comments to come my way in response to what I'm about to say. I'm upset as well that the dog's owner wasn't required to spend that 20 remaining days in jail either and 3 years without another dog doesn't seem like much when it's already been what a year and he hasn't cared much unless the 3 years start now but again I still don't think he's going to care about that since he obviously cared so little for the dog to begin with. Personally I think the one he has might be an inside dog, not an outside one like the one he abused originally, and for whatever reason he just cares for that one dog more. Not sure he's really going to care that much about the fines either though. Now here's where the tricky part comes in. Currently the jail is at full capacity. Not sure who all is in there and for what - other than our current resident murderers of course - but who is the judge supposed to evict to allow this guy to serve his 20 days? One of the murderers? Allowing him to wait out his time and then go later to serve would probably be just as bad - in the eyes of the public - as what he was given. And I know that the weekend DUIs used to be done at one of the local hotels because of the jail being so full but I'm not even sure if that's still being done. I believe this guy should have gotten a firmer punishment for how badly he abused that dog but I don't know how the sentence could have been carried out given the current state of our county's jail.


Candleburner.. I understand what your trying to say. But the Judge could have imposed a stiffer fine. This idiot should have at least been made to pay the Vet. bill and the cost of caring for Star while she was recovering.
How in the hell, are people going to take animal cruelty seriously, with sentences as mild as this??
This so called Judge is a real class act. And I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible!


Judge O'Brien made sure he got the $92.00 court costs though. Surprised he did not suspend the $58.00 fine in lieu of good behavior or something.


Candleburner, I agree with what you're saying about our jails being too full. I get that part .... but the humane society always needs help out there .... maybe O'Brien could have been a little more creative with his sentencing ..... instead of jail, 1 year cleaning kennels and scooping poop (no contact with the dogs though). I'm sure they have litter boxes that need scooped as well ..... Also, I agree Morningbreezes1 ..... at the VERY VERY least, Ryerson should have lost his present dog, the right to EVER own another dog, been made to pay ALL costs associated with vetting and re-homing Bella as well as court costs, etc. O'Brien really blew his chance to make a difference here. Not good, not good at all.


How is it even possible that he does not have to pay vet costs to get the dog well and back to a normal painfree state. He is / was responsible for the health and welfare of this dog. He isn't truly being held accountable. Ryerson, volunteer to do the final right thing , pay for your dogs vet bills, you are the reason he needed a vet after all, show a step in the right direction, at least do this for Bella. Everybody, voice on here that he should do this final right thing.


BRAVO!!!! mommy25 I love the way you think !!I so agree get creative with these jerks!!! clean litter boxes , kennels, shovel snow, laundry any menial job at the humane society would have been a terrific punishment!




I agree it was a perfect opportunity to set an example. At the very least, cover vet costs and community service. I hope the judge is reading this.

Steve P

Typical O'Brien, one of the reason Sandusky is going into the dumper.
His lax sentencing doesn't create a deterrent not to reoffend.


O'Brien is no better, and just as guilty, as the low life who hurt the dog. Maybe they are buddies.

Anybody who hurts or condones this kind of abuse to an animal is a LOWLIFE.