TWINSBURG: By the looks of it, the dog tied up in the muddy yard of the South Akron house recently had given birth.
According to neighbors, the large brindle Cane Corso and her month-old pups were abandoned by people who quickly packed up and moved out of the residence. They said another dog, a large bull mastiff that was also left behind, broke loose from his tether and was running at large.
Over the next few days, the mother would become a living example of the cases the Humane Society of Greater Akron takes on an all-too-frequent basis.
Earlier this month, Summit County sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant at the house, a rental property, looking for two Chicago men suspected of trafficking drugs. But by then, the occupants had cleared out and moved on, said Bill Holland, inspector for the sheriff’s office.
Neighbors said the occupants left two adult dogs and 13 puppies behind.
“Deputies found the animals outside and gave them food and water before they left, then notified the dog warden,” Holland said.
Two men suspected of living in the house were located and arrested the same day at another Akron residence.
“Twelve hours later, they were out [of jail]” after each posted a $25,000 bond, Holland said.
Authorities don’t know if the men are the owners of the dogs, but deputies believe the men had a connection to the raided property based on what they learned through their investigation, Holland said.
Neighbors said the occupants of the house were back to retrieve some of their belongings a couple days after the raid.
“The renters came back two days later, got some stuff out of the house and took the puppies,” said Joshua Pursley, who lives next door.
Officers from the Humane Society of Greater Akron checked on the dogs the next day, finding the mastiff gone and the Cane Corso without food and water and only a filthy, wet mattress to lie on.
Senior humane officer Tim Harland left a note on the front door of the home advising the owners of the dog to contact the agency regarding her care. By law, he could not remove the animal from the property for 72 hours. As deputies had done, Harland petted and talked to the dog and provided her with food and water before leaving.
The following day, Harland once again pulled up to the litter-strewn property in a neighborhood where as many as half of the homes appear to be abandoned. The dog was still tied in the backyard, so Harland fed her and gave her water and left a second “notice to comply” taped to the front door.
“If she’s here tomorrow, we’ll take her,” Harland said.
“Some people would say [the animals] would be better off euthanized than to live that way,” Harland said as he drove away from the property. “My goal is to get them a home,” he said.
In abandonment cases, the Humane Society attempts to reach an owner by regular mail and by certified letter, but owners rarely leave a forwarding address, he said.
Role of the agency
The two local Humane Society officers, Harland and Shannon O’Herron, respond to about 15 calls each day, about 75 percent of them originating in Akron.
By law, humane officers are charged with rescuing abused, abandoned and neglected animals. Officers also investigate and prosecute cruelty cases. They do not pick up stray animals. For help with strays, Summit County Animal Control is called.
The easiest way to understand the agency’s mission is that the Humane Society protects animals from people. Conversely, the county animal control is charged with protecting people from animals, said Karen Hackenberry, executive director of the Humane Society of Greater Akron.
“If you live in Summit County, we are your animal cops. We are the only local animal rescue organization with legal authority to enforce Ohio’s animal cruelty laws. It is an awesome responsibility that is sometimes misunderstood,” she said.
Animal cruelty, neglect and abuse is a crime in Ohio, and humane officers have authority equal with police to enforce the laws. Once a person is cited into court, officers need only to convince a judge they have “probable cause” to confiscate an animal and charge the owner.
If the judge agrees, owners can be charged fees and fines that can total thousands of dollars, Harland said.
An estimated 75 percent of cruelty cases are over dogs, he said.
“One of the things people say that gets under my skin is, ‘It’s only a dog,’ ” Harland said. “I tell them, ‘Hey, how would you like to be in that dog’s situation, tied to a tree without food and water?’ ”
But what is considered neglect by one person isn’t necessarily so in another’s opinion, said Harland, who has been a humane officer for 18 years.
“Everyone has an idea of what animal cruelty is. But sometimes, it’s almost a matter of judgment.”
Human officers find that many of the people they deal with are struggling financially, and officers need only to work with those people to educate them. Sometimes, negligence is more a matter of ignorance of the law and the animals’ needs, Harland said.
He or O’Herron return every call that goes into a voice mailbox at the Humane Society. There is no secretary fielding calls, or a dispatcher to send them to different parts of the county where they are needed. Phone calls are returned between stops.
By law, if an animal is not confined, the humane officers cannot act on its behalf. Sometimes people get angry when the officers tell a caller they can’t catch an animal to help it.
“Shannon and I learned years ago we aren’t going to please everybody,” Harland said.
People should call the Humane Society directly to report animal abuse, neglect or cruelty. The vast majority of calls come from the public and not from police departments, Harland said.
An animal that is being fed is not considered neglected, he said.
“If someone moves out of a house and lets an animal loose, it’s a stray,” Harland said, and not under his jurisdiction. Also, it is not illegal for people to move and leave an animal behind if they continue to take care of the animal.
“There is no law you have to live where your dog lives. The law is you have to take care of it,” he said.
If a person arrives home and finds a notice attached to the door, it’s best not to ignore it in the hopes the officer will forget about it. That’s not going to happen, said Harland, who spends a great deal of time following up on complaints.
The notice reads: “Failure to do so will result in turning the matter over to the prosecutor’s office.”
“I wouldn’t want to come home and find that on my door,” he said.
The next step is a visit from humane officers armed with a search warrant, Harland said.
Harland went back to visit the abandoned animal in South Akron the following day, picked her up and took her to the Humane Society facility in Twinsburg, where she was greeted by employees who offered her the affection she craved, a warm bed to sleep on and food and water to fill her belly. Later that day, she was given a medical evaluation by Humane Society veterinarian Melisa Kauffman, who also gave her all the necessary inoculations.
The staff named her Vera — after fashion designer Vera Wang — and tucked her into the large, clean cage where she would stay for the next 10 days, in case her owners decide to claim her.
“Vera chowed down on a hot dog filled with worm medication and tested negative for heart worm,” director Hackenberry reported after Kauffman completed her exam.
Vera, who weighed in at about 65 pounds, is 3 or 4 years old. She basked in the attention she received from employees at the agency, Hackenberry said.
“She’s very friendly,” she noted.
Kristin Branagan, director of behavior and adoption services, recently administered Vera’s behavior assessment test. She will be placed for adoption in a home that will be suitable with her temperament.
“With her disposition, she won’t be there long,” Harland said.
To report an animal that is abused, neglected, abandoned or hurt, call the Humane Society of Greater Akron at 330-487-0333 or toll-free at 1-888-588-8436.
The Beacon Journal intends to follow Vera’s journey as she adjusts as a newcomer at the shelter through her adoption into a loving home.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.