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Under current law, experts say animal must die to elevate abuse charge

Posted: 5:25 PM, Sep 06, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-06 23:40:20Z
Exploring the legal loophole of animal abuse
Exploring the legal loophole of animal abuse

Ohio has laws to help protect pets from abuse, but unless an animal dies from mistreatment, the owner may only get a slap on the wrist. News 5 takes a look at how these laws can affect both pets and their owners.

Recently, two dogs faced starvation in an animal neglect case out of Lorain.

"These dogs were basically just starved," said Dr. Thomas Wood of Lorain Animal Clinic. 

Dr. Wood said they likely hadn't eaten for a very long time before they were left abandoned in a home their owners moved out from. 

Folks at Lorain Animal Clinic did everything they could, but the larger dog died just days after our story aired. 

RELATED: 'These dogs were basically just starved,' two dogs left for dead in Lorain County

The disturbing thing is that up until the dog died, the animal cruelty case was considered a misdemeanor offense. 

A neglected dog had to die to elevate the charge.

Ohio's legal standards for animals changed in 2016 with a law making animal abusers face harsher penalties the first time around.

A misdemeanor charge of negligently causing suffering or failing to provide care that doesn't result in death received an upgrade in 2016, with a law making animal abusers face harsher penalties the first time around. But provisions can make neglect like the case in Lorain a low-level crime. 

Lorain patrol and humane officer Richard Broz said the punishment for a misdemeanor offense can be up to six months in jail, but the longest sentence that he's seen for a misdemeanor offense is 45 days.

"A dog can be that sick and it's technically a misdemeanor unless it dies? That's the way the laws are written," Broz said. 

And that's when police even catch the culprits. More animal neglect and abandonment cases are being reported, but when the victim is defenseless, there's no way for investigators to determine who hurt or left them. 

Broz gave examples of dogs who were ditched and abandoned in the city or were bred too many times. Others had owners that were likely trying to train them just to be guard dogs. 

"If we have no way of finding out who owned the animal, we really have no one to investigate or prosecute," Broz said. 

Broz said that in many cases, people don't mean to neglect a dog, but they can't afford to take care of it. 

If you have an animal you can't care for, give the local animal shelter or the police department a call.

RELATED:  Kennel owners charged with 21 counts of cruelty after dogs found in cages in their own feces