Discovered last Wednesday in a barn east of Kalida, this dog is the subject on an open animal cruelty investigation at Putnam County Sheriff's Office
Discovered last Wednesday in a barn east of Kalida, this dog is the subject on an open animal cruelty investigation at Putnam County Sheriff's Office. (photo submitted)

PUTNAM COUNTY/OHIO — Last Wednesday, alerted to a possible animal abuse situation by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, County Dog Warden Mike Schroth drove to a barn near the intersection of U.S. Route 224 and Road M-10, just east of Kalida. There he found a brindle pit bull mix lying in the dirt, its hind legs fettered. The dog matched descriptions of one reported to have been seen running loose in the area over the course of the previous two weeks.

“I saw it in the corner, and he literally just looks at me like, ‘Help me,’” Officer Schroth said, describing the scene. “Then I looked at the hind legs, where they were wrapped together. You can see where the skin’s missing, you can see the open sores, without even taking anything off. And you can smell the infection. The smell was awful.”

The dog warden then gathered up the dog — a process he said the animal took without any sign of complaint — loaded him into the back of his truck, and drove to a local veterinarian’s office. There, the vet and Officer Schroth painstakingly cut away the encumbrance: a line from a retractable dog lead, complete with square, plastic handle and housing, wrapped again and again around the dog’s legs.

The tightly wound leash and subsequent swelling had cut bone-deep lacerations. Friction between the inside of the animal’s closely pressed legs had sandpapered away the skin. Officer Schroth described fly larvae teeming on the abrasions and in the cuts. The veterinarian estimated the dog had laid there in that condition for as long as two days, possibly longer.

Without a witness to detail what happened, no one to definitively say the dog was deliberately trussed up and left to die, there’s no immediate recourse. Even so, a complaint was filed with the PCSO, and Officer Schroth has his suspicions.

“Is it possible that the dog got tangled up in it? Yes,” he said. “But based on how it was tied on there, it looks like it was more likely done intentionally.”

Officer Schroth acknowledged he does receive complaints of animal abuse, but such complaints are rare. As for this particular case, he said he’s never experienced anything like it in the years he’s served as Putnam County’s dog warden.

Horrific as this account certainly is, it’s an indicator of a darker potential.

For decades, researchers have determined those willing and capable of intentionally abusing an animal are statistically more likely to abuse humans. A three-year, three-part study — conducted by the Massachussetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University — tracked the criminal records of 153 individuals prosecuted by the MSPCA between 1975 and 1986 for intentional physical cruelty to animals. Taking into account the 10 years prior to and the 10 years following their prosecutions, the study determined 70% of those who committed violent crimes against animals also had criminal records for violent, property, drug, or disorder crimes. Further, the study determined these same individuals were five time more likely to commit violent crimes against people than a control group comprised of individuals of the same age and gender who lived in the same neighborhoods.

More recently, research has drawn a link between animal cruelty and a topic of constant concern for law enforcement and social services professionals: domestic violence. Citing a variety of studies, the National Link Coalition, an organization dedicated to “Working together to stop violence against people and animals,” asserts:

• over 71% of battered women reported their batterers had harmed, killed, or threatened animals to coerce, control and humiliate them;

• 76% of domestic violence victims whose partners had histories of pet abuse had been strangled;

• 26% had been forced to have sex with the suspect and 80% feared they would be killed by the suspect;

• 41% of intimate partner violence offenders had histories of animal cruelty;

• 75% of animal abuse incidents occurred in the presence of children;

• 71% of survivors in shelters reported their partner had harmed or killed animals, with 32% reporting their children had also done so, repeating the intergenerational cycle of violence.

This kind of research has increasingly garnered the attention of legislators across the nation, and Ohio is no exception. A bill working its way through the Ohio statehouse specifically addresses this concern. With regulations requiring officers or agents of county humane societies to report suspected child or elder abuse already in place in Ohio, this new legislation — House Bill 33 — expands the scope of reporting to include animal abuse.

Under House Bill 33, professionals — including county dog wardens, veterinarians, social workers, and law enforcement personnel, as well as humane officers — would be required to report cases of animal cruelty to social service agencies. The specific language of the bill proposes the following:

No officer, operating in an official or professional capacity, shall fail to immediately report a violation of this chapter involving a companion animal to an appropriate social service professional when both of the following apply:

A) The officer has knowledge or reasonable cause to suspect that such a violation has occurred or is occurring.

B) The officer has knowledge or reasonable cause to suspect that a child or older adult resides with the alleged violator.

“There’s definitely a link,” State Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon), who also serves as treasurer for the Henry County SPCA, said. “This is legislation I would vote for.”

The bill gives a nod to what many law enforcement officials already recognize as a fundamental truth: those capable of committing acts of violence against an animal, particularly a companion animal, are equally capable of acts of violence against a spouse, a child, a parent. Understanding that truth, agencies are proactively taking action, implementing programs to raise awareness of the link. For the National Sheriffs’ Association, that action, in part, takes form in the Animal Cruelty as a Gateway Crime project.

First explored in 2015, the NSA initiated meetings between law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges and animal welfare advocates. As a result of those meetings, the NSA officially recognized “… animal cruelty crimes can serve as a precursor to more violent crimes, as a co-occurring crime to other types of offenses, and as an interrelated crime to offenses such as domestic violence and elder abuse.”

Subsequently, and in partnership with the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals, NSA made available a variety of tools — including a white paper, videos, and a smartphone app — targeted at patrol officers, deputies, and investigators. The goal, according to information available on NSA’s website, is to create “… a cultural attitudinal change among mainstream law enforcement officers and deputies that animal crimes must be given the same attention and priorities as personal and property crimes.”

“We’re taking a step in the right direction,” Officer Schroth, himself a part-time deputy with the PCSO, said of NSA’s effort.

As for the dog found last Wednesday, the extent of his injuries were such that he had permanently lost all use of his hind legs. With compassion, commingled with regret on the part of Officer Schroth and the veterinarian who treated him, he was humanely euthanized.

“Someone knows something,” Officer Schroth said. “Whether it was unintentional or done intentionally, someone knows something. I hope that someone speaks up.”

The PCSO has an open investigation into the incident. Anyone with any information regarding the dog or its owners is encouraged to contact the PCSO at (419) 523-3208.