Forty-three animals were seized as part of investigations into three incidents of animal cruelty and neglect in Marion County.
According to a press release issued by the Marion County Sheriff's Office, humane agents executed search warrants at three separate locations in the county on Sept. 20 and Sept. 23 and took the animals into custody. No arrests have been made in the cases, but all three investigations are still in progress, according to the sheriff's office. Dog Warden Scott Mills did say that suspects have been identified in each case.
Mills said this marks the single largest seizure of animals since he has been dog warden in Marion County.
During the warrant search executed on Sept. 20 at a residence in the 400 block of Park Street in Marion, seven dogs of varying breeds were seized by deputies.
On Sept. 23, deputies executed a warrant search at a residence in the 100 block of East George Street in Marion and seized one rabbit, three ferrets, 20 guinea pigs, one hamster, and eight dogs of varying breeds.
Also on Sept. 23, deputies executed a warrant search at a residence in the 500 block of South Main Street in Marion and seized three dogs of varying breeds.
Authorities said 13 of the guinea pigs and the hamster died. Some of the guinea pigs were found dead at the residence where the search warrant was executed.
Mills said the dog pound received tips that prompted the investigations to be initiated at each location in Marion.
"We had a couple of anonymous tips, calls that said that dogs were left in houses and weren't being taken care of," Mills explained. "We left our notices on the houses. By law, we have to leave a notice to make sure they know we're coming. If the notice is still there the next day and nobody's called us, we leave another one stating that if we don't hear from them in the next 24 hours we will get a warrant and seize the animals. In all three of these cases, we left our notices for at least three days and no answer, so then we executed the search warrants."
Mills said investigators were somewhat surprised by the total number of animals they found at the three locations.
"We expected less animals than what we found at the time," he said. "Then when we got there, of course, we got more than we anticipated. We didn't know anything about the (small animals) at the time."
The dogs rescued during the warrant searches are being housed at the Marion County Dog Pound. Mills said all of the dogs have been evaluated and treated by a local veterinarian and seem to be recovering well. He said they will not be made available for adoption until after the case is resolved.
The small animals are being housed at the Marion Area Humane Society. Like the dogs, they will not be available for adoption until after the case is resolved.
Payton Tiell, shelter manager for the Marion Area Humane Society, said the remaining animals - three ferrets, seven guinea pigs, and the rabbit - are all in good condition. She said people who become overwhelmed when trying to care for a large number of pets should seek out assistance.
"There are resources out there, different facilities that can help if you're just in over your head or can't care for your animal," Tiell said. "There are options that are available to help you get them into a facility like ours and get them off your hands. Small animals are much harder to take care of than you'd think. There's a lot of work that goes into taking care of ferrets, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
"A lot of people get them just because they're cute, but they're a lot of work. You have to change the bedding daily, feeding is more complex than for a cat or a dog, and they need access to water at all times. A lot does go into their care."
Anyone who has information about these investigations is asked to contact Capt. Ryan Zempter at the Marion County Sheriff's Office at 740-382-8244, ext. 5150, or Humane Agents Scott Mills and Jon Howard at the Marion County Dog Pound at 740-386-6150.
“We will always protect those that cannot protect themselves," Marion County Sheriff Matt Bayles said. “People that mistreat, neglect or abuse animals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Animal cruelty laws in Ohio
In an analysis of Ohio's animal cruelty laws, E.A. Gjelten, legal editor for the website Lawyers.com, writes that "Ohio’s animal cruelty laws prohibit deliberate and negligent acts or omissions that cause unnecessary pain and suffering to companion animals." Ohio Revised Code Section 959 outlines the state's animal cruelty statutes.
According to Gjelten, the first violation of the statute can result in either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of 90 to 180 days in jail and fines. Further violations can result in a fifth-degree felony charge that could lead to a prison sentence for the offender.
Ohio passed what's known as Goddard's Law (Ohio House Bill 60) in 2016, which states that a first offense can result in felony charges if the animal that was victimized "suffers serious physical harm," Gjelten stated. Felony offenses under Goddard's Law are punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500.
Goddard's Law was named after former Cleveland television meteorologist Dick Goddard, who was an outspoken advocate against animal cruelty.
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This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Marion County deputies seize 43 animals during investigations