Penalties rare despite thousands of dog complaints

A single dog owner has 19 warnings, 1 citation.Newspaper investigation launched after mauling death of Klonda Richey.

A house on Chelsea Avenue in Dayton has received at least 19 written warnings from animal control officers about reports of pitbulls running loose and even attacking people. Neighbor Kermit Johnson keeps a hand axe and pole on his porch for protection.

“I don’t want my arm shredded or my throat slit or whatever that dog will do,” said the 72-year old Army veteran, who has lived in his home for 27 years.

Montgomery County’s Animal Resource Center issued thousands of warnings to dog owners between 2011 and 2013. But a Dayton Daily News investigation found calls to ARC rarely result in actual penalties for violations of dog laws.

And some residents say many dogs are allowed to run free and terrorize neighborhoods.

A newspaper analysis of Montgomery County Animal Resource Center records found ARC officers responded to 20,293 calls in 2012 and 2013. Of those, 4,142 resulted in a warning being issued and 697 resulted in one or more citations. The county in each of those years issued more than 900 citations, some resulting in fines as low as $10.

The newspaper acquired call logs for 2011 through 2013 from the ARC using Ohio’s public records law, after Dayton resident Klonda Richey was mauled to death Feb. 7 at her home on East Bruce Avenue by two mixed mastiff dogs owned by her neighbors, Andrew Nason and Julie Custer.

A Daily News investigation revealed that Richey had sought protection from the dogs and her neighbors for months before her death.

In total, 13 complaints were filed with the Animal Resource Center related to the dogs next door to Richey’s home and another 46 calls were made to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center between Dec. 27, 2011, and Richey’s death. Nine calls about the dogs running loose — including claims the dogs were chasing people — resulted in written warnings.

None of the complaints resulted in citations.

Richey also filed for a civil stalking protection order but was denied in April 2013. A Montgomery County grand jury has been impaneled to consider possible charges against Nason and Custer.

In its investigation of the county’s response to dog complaints, the newspaper found numerous examples of residents frustrated over what they considered lax enforcement of dog laws.

Animal Resource Center officials visited a duplex on Catalpa Avenue six times in the three months before Sept. 27, 2013, including on Sept. 10. Seventeen days later they responded to a neighbor’s complaint that a Great Dane corpse was left to rot in the back of a van.

They found the Great Dane in the van, a deceased puppy in a trash can and a third dead dog on a landing in the house. Nearly a dozen other dogs were found living in filth.

“You couldn’t describe it,” said the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous. “I almost threw up.”

Hazel White’s neighbors in Miamisburg have made multiple complaints about her dogs — Buddy and Snowman — and White is one of several people who have received 10 or more written warnings since 2011.

But she has paid little penalty.

In September 2011 White was cited twice, two days apart. In both cases she was fined $10.

‘No violation of law’

County officials say warnings, rather than citations, often are issued because animal control officers do not witness violations while they are happening. In the Chelsea Avenue case, for example, officers did not find a dog at large when they responded to the scene, said Amy Wiedeman, assistant county administrator.

“There was no violation of law,” she said. “We can’t cite based on no violation. We do it the times we think it’s warranted.”

In many cases, complaints are connected to neighbor disputes, said Wiedeman and Joe Tuss, county administrator. People have different tolerance levels about dogs, Tuss said. What one person thinks is appropriate behavior for a dog can be perceived as unacceptable by another person who may feel threatened.

Animal control officers try to work with owners to help them resolve issues related to their dogs before issuing stiffer penalties, Tuss said.

Wiedeman and Tuss also pointed to the difficulty in reaching owners. Multiple reports noted that officers frequently are unable to make contact with the actual owners of the dogs.

The Animal Resource Center has a staff of 28 which includes 11 animal control officers and the dog warden, Mark Kumpf.

Wiedeman and Tuss declined to comment on anything related to the Richey case, citing advice from the county prosecutor. Kumpf was not made available to comment.

‘They just don’t care’

Kermit Johnson and his neighbors around 1158 Chelsea Ave. expressed frustration with what they perceive as a lack of urgency for dealing with dogs, including pit bulls, they see roaming around the Belmont neighborhood.

“I think that when they’re called on a vicious dog report they should respond as fast as a 911 call,” said Johnson. “Because that could be the next call is a 911 call.”

Donna Russell, who lives across the street from Johnson, said she has complained three or four times about dogs from that address running loose.

“They were jumping the fence,” she said of the dogs. “It’s a shame that whoever you call, you get the feeling they just don’t care.”

ARC records show officers sometimes responded within a couple of hours to the complaints about loose dogs at 1158 Chelsea. Other times, there was no visit until the next day — even though two of the calls came in before 2:30 p.m.

Wiedeman and Tuss said frequently calls are left on voicemail at the Animal Resource Center in the evening hours and that officers respond when they pick up the message the following day.

A county document sent to dispatch centers lists normal hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. between November and March and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. between April to October. After hours, ARC has an officer on call for emergencies.

Officers respond to sick, injured or dangerous animals in the middle of the night if necessary, Tuss and Wiedeman said. “We prioritize the same way other policing agencies do,” Tuss said.

‘They’re not vicious’

After issuing numerous warnings at the Chelsea Avenue address, officers cited James Gross in September for failing to license the dogs. He didn’t pay the citation and has a warrant out, according to Dayton Municipal Court records.

Reporters found Gross and Karen Johnson at home with a pitbull named China, a Chihuahua named Jeremiah – who Gross said is licensed at a different address — two cats and Mister Duck, their pet Easter duck from 2013.

“They’re not vicious,” Gross said of the dogs. In fact, he said one of the dogs listed in the complaints – a black and white pitbull – not only isn’t his, but jumped over the fence into his yard a couple months ago and impregnated China. China’s litter is only a few weeks old and Johnson and Gross said they intend to either give away or sell the puppies.

“I’ve never been able to get hold of them when I call them,” Gross said of his attempts to inform the dog warden that he is getting warnings for someone else’s dog. Wiedeman said this was the first time she heard of the discrepancy about the dogs.

Johnson said the family got rid of their male pitbull, Lucien, who was chocolate with a red tint, because neighbors were lodging so many complaints about him.

‘They appeared fine’

In the months before three dogs were found dead at the property on Catalpa Avenue, Animal Resource Center officials visited the duplex several times.

A 5:48 p.m. call on July 18, 2013, about a dog with open sores was responded to the next day. No one was home, according to a report on the visit, so the officer walked around to the back of the house and saw the garage had been turned into kennels.

The officer did not enter the garage but noted in the report that the homeowner had a kennel license and “from what I could make out of the dogs shape, they appeared fine.”

A month later, on Aug. 24, officers took possession of two dogs police said escaped the house and had chased someone. The dogs were taken back to the ARC and a cruelty investigation was started “due to the severe underweight conditions” of the dogs, according to an ARC report. During that visit, “There were at least four other Great Danes in the detached garage but I did not enter the garage,” an officer reported.

Three days later, a man who said he responded to a Craigslist ad and arranged to live at the house in exchange for caring for the dogs, took an ARC officer to the detached garage where nine dogs, most of them Great Danes, were kenneled.

Most “were underweight with rib, hip and back bones prominent,” the report said. Although dry food was available, the raw meat the owners had delivered for the dogs ran out five days earlier, according to the tenant, Nathaniel McDavid.

The dogs were licensed to Lillian Jones, whose husband Steven tried to claim the two impounded dogs on Aug. 24. Steven Jones told officers he hadn’t been to the house in two months.

On Sept. 10, 17 days before the dead dogs were found, an officer wrote that he spoke to the Lillian Jones by phone and looked at the dogs. “They appear to have gained weight. I will continue to check on progress.”

The neighbor who spoke anonymously said the smell of death had been growing for roughly two weeks before the grisly discovery of dead dogs at 2306 Catalpa Drive.

After maggots and flies began multiplying on the border of her property, she said she peeked into the van and saw what appeared to be dog legs and paws sticking out from under a tarp.

“To me an animal is like a child,” she said. “They can’t take care of themselves. It’s our job to make sure they’re fed, and watered and played with. They need all those things.”

The woman called into the Animal Resource Center at 5:47 p.m. on Sept. 26. When an officer responded at 9:30 a.m. the following morning, he was “greeted by the odor of decay as I parked.”

“The property was unkempt with trash, debris and junk on the porch and yard,” the report says. “There was an odor emanating from in and around the residence that was consistent in my knowledge, training and experience with animals kept in unfit conditions.”

Animal officers called housing inspectors, who condemned the property. ARC officers accompanied them as they entered the property to secure it. Eventually they got a search warrant.

“The floors and walls of the entire residence were caked with feces and urine,” the report says. There were 10 adult dogs and three puppies on the property, several of them with fight scars and appearing malnourished. There also were several caged rabbits.

Tuss and Wiedeman defended the county’s response. The officer saw conditions improving and typically would allow a 10 to 14 day window before returning to check on the dogs, they said.

“We run based on a complaint model,” Tuss said. “We respond to calls for service and demand.”

He noted that no additional calls complaining about the house had come between Sept. 10 and Sept. 26, and an ARC officer had been in contact with the dog owners to improve the health of the dogs and their living conditions.

“It was incredibly unfortunate,” Tuss said. “It is a judgment call.

“(ARC officers) exercise what I consider to be good and trained judgment. Our animal control officers have a very tough job.”

According to an Oct. 8, 2013, report by Kelly Meyer, the veterinarian at the Animal Resource Center: The majority of dogs were underweight, some severe. Most of the dogs exhibited wounds consistent with territorial fighting, an indicator of overcrowding. All of the dogs were severely infested with fleas and had a foul odor. Two dogs had ringworm, including a nursing mother whose three puppies were infested with fleas. Another female was pregnant.

“It is finally the opinion of this examiner that the above noted conditions (fleas, fighting, weight loss, unsanitary conditions) would have been easily apparent to a person with little or no animal care experience,” the report said.

Kennel license holder Lillian Jones was charged in October with 43 misdemeanor counts of cruelty and failing to care for a companion animal, according to Dayton Municipal Court. She has an active arrest warrant. She could not be reached for comment.

‘They’re very protective’

When reporters walked up to Hazel White’s Miamisburg home this month, they were met with a pair of snarling, barking dogs that barged out of the door without a leash. White was able to get them tied up after yelling at them for a minute or so.

“I’m here by myself an awful lot of the time,” the 83-year-old said. “They’re very protective. But they have never bit anybody.”

An ARC officer cited White on May 22 when he said one of her dogs – Buddy or Snowman — charged him. The ticket was the fourth given White since 2011, and followed 10 warnings, including that her dogs were chasing after the school bus.

On Sept. 22, 2011, an officer said Buddy tried to bite him. White was cited and paid $10 in fines and court costs, according to Miamisburg Municipal Court records.

Two days later, ARC officers got another call that Buddy had gotten loose. She was cited for failing to license the dogs and paid another $10 fine.

The next day ARC received another call that the dogs were loose. Two days later they responded and found the dogs tethered to the porch. Officers couldn’t get to the porch to post another warning.

More warnings were issued in November and December. Finally, she was cited again in December after officers responded to complaints that the dogs were chasing the school bus and the dogs charged at the ARC van.

“I had to shove one away with my police baton to avoid being bitten,” the officer wrote in the report. “White did not have control of the dogs and could only get one to come to her with lunch meat.”

White was forced to pay $130 that time.

Warnings continued through 2012 and 2013, with neighbors complaining a child had been knocked over or that their dog had been attacked.

One of White’s neighbors, Ed Lantz, said complaints show little results.

“They never do nothing,” he said. “I keep complaining and complaining about it…but when you complain about it they say there ain’t nothing they can do if they don’t see it.”

“Somebody is going to get hurt seriously. I don’t see why that has to happen. They (ARC officers) go out there and pick them up and say, ‘don’t do that no more.’”

Wiedeman said supervisors can order 10-day patrols — daily monitoring — in response to citizen complaints of ongoing problems. Such patrols were not ordered in response to complaints from Klonda Richey or from neighbors in the Chelsea Avenue and Catalpa Drive cases.

It was ordered on White’s dogs in 2011. The dogs are now labeled a nuisance and White faces a fine of up to $165 if she is cited.

Enforcement lacks bite

Former Brown County dog warden Dale Bath said prosecutors and the courts, and not animal control officers, are responsible for any lax enforcement.

“You’d go out and write a citation for dogs not being licensed, you’d go to court and the judge would throw it out,” said Bath, who owns Harlequin Haven in Bethel, where some of the Great Danes from the Catalpa duplex were transported and adopted out.

“The problem we see is that the courts don’t want to convict anybody,” she said.

Tuss and Wiedeman also said fine enforcement is a problem. Animal control officers, they said, work hard on cases and then are frustrated when judges issue low fines or suspend them.

“The worst thing is to issue a fine,” Tuss said. “They can’t pay it and then there’s a warrant for their arrest. It confuses and clogs the criminal justice system.”

A recent dog bite case resulted in a $5 fine, according to Wiedeman. “It’s frustrating because officers spent a lot of time on the case,” she said.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said dog wardens have limited authority and he thinks enforcement actions should be handled by his office.

“I just want to do the investigations to protect people,” Plummer said. “Either enhance their authority or let us do the enforcement.”

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