Speaking out for those without a voice

Published 10:12 am Monday, September 10, 2012

Rally slated to show support for stricter animal abuse laws

The brutal stabbing of two family dogs in their own backyard in Pedro has galvanized local animal supporters to push for stronger penalties for what they call inhumane acts against companion animals.

These advocates are planning a rally at 8 a.m. Thursday in front of the Ironton Municipal Court to show their support that animal abuse should be a felony, not simply a misdemeanor, and for Nitro’s Law, a bill that would make it a felony for kennel owners, employees and operators to abuse the animals in their care.

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Thursday is the day the two men arrested for the crime at Pedro will have a preliminary hearing in the downtown Ironton courtroom.

On Aug. 25, Josie and Mike Scythes of Pedro came home to find their two pet dogs stabbed multiple times with their throats cut. One dog had tried to take refuge in his doghouse, which was apparently torn apart by an assailant who stabbed the animal again, a sheriff’s report stated.

Arrested were Brian L. Sharp, 20, and Johnathan D. Jiles, 20, and charged with prohibition concerning companion animals, a first-degree misdemeanor. If convicted the maximum penalty is 180 days in the county jail and a fine of $1,000.

The men are also charged with criminal trespassing, which is a fourth-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for that is 30 days in the county jail and a $250 fine.

According to Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, the two men said they were drunk at the time. They remain in the Lawrence County Jail.

Currently the Humane Society of the United States ranks Ohio 36th out of the 50 states for the level of penalty for its animal abuse laws. California holds first place for providing the most legal protection for animals against abuse.

“I highly believe Ohio needs a stronger animal abuse law and I believe animal abuse should be as high as a felony, at the discretion of the prosecutor,” Josie Scythes said. “If we don’t step up and get harsher punishments for these acts, it will only continue and get worse. They will move on to defenseless people.

“The goal of the rally is for public awareness on animal cruelty and support from the community and to show how the community feels about animal cruelty and the penalties for such crimes needs to be greater. The rally is not to decide the penalty for this case. That is up to the judge and the prosecutors. I know I am in good hands.”

The crime against the Scythes’ dogs came under the notice of Hand4paws, which Scythes describes as a “grassroots organization of volunteers dedicated to conducting animal advocacy campaigns through social media.”

The organization has started an online petition asking that the two defendants, if convicted, be given the maximum penalty and not be allowed to own or live with companion animals. As of this morning, the petition started Sept. 1, had 5,784 signatures from supporters across the United States and Canada.

“I am overwhelmed with all of the support we have received across the nation and grateful that the word is getting out about animal cruelty,” Scythes said.

Organizing Thursday’s rally is the Nitro Foundation, started when seven dogs, including a Rottweiler named Nitro, were starved to death at a training kennel in Youngstown in 2008. The death of those dogs was the impetus for House Bill 108, also known as Nitro’s Law, that has already passed the full House and a Senate committee.

“When we approached legislators to get a bill, we were trying to go after all abusers,” Mike Smeck, of the Nitro Foundation, said. “We were told that was too broad. Ohio is behind the majority of states for first-offense felony (for animal abuse). And this would be at the prosecutor’s discretion. This is for major cases, such as the case in Ironton.”

Smeck said he understands there are those who believe taking an interest in animal rights means diminishing the significance of crimes against people. But he disagrees with that point of view.

“We are the voice for the voiceless,” Smeck said. “Animals don’t have a voice. Humans have laws to protect them. I really hate it when people say, ‘It is just a dog or a cat.’ That philosophy and attitude are changing. You talk to K-9 officers or animal owners, and our animals are an integral part of the family.”

The foundation had wanted a full vote by the Senate before summer recess. But that didn’t happen.

“We are waiting for them to come back from recess,” Smeck said. “Then it will be the election. We only have from November to the end of year and then we will have to start the whole process again. If that happens, we will go for broke and go after all abusers.”