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EDITOR'S NOTE: This version clarifies the description of first offense felony charges.
A Toledo man who zipped six puppies into a suitcase and left them along with their mother in an alley will be paid a visit by the Toledo Area Humane Society this week to assess the condition of his remaining two dogs, said the group's Executive Director John Dinon.
Howard Davis, 53, on Monday surrendered the mother and puppies to the group, which has been caring for the dogs since their discovery behind a North Toledo market April 4. While in Toledo Municipal Court, he also entered pleas on two criminal charges in the case -- avoiding a trial and possibly avoiding jail time.
"Our biggest concern was the welfare of the animals," Mr. Dinon said after the hearing. "Looking at it in light of what's best for the animals, I feel very good about what happened today."
Had the case gone to trial, the legal custody of the mom and puppies would have been in legal limbo, and there was a chance the humane society wouldn't have gotten custody of them.
"This was not a guy beating a dog with a baseball bat," Mr. Dinon said. "It could have resulted in a very bad situation but the reality is, the mom and the puppies were all fine."
Mr. Davis has no pattern of previous animal cruelty, Mr. Dinon added.
Mr. Davis was ordered on Monday by Judge Timothy Kuhlman to begin payments to the humane society of $466 in restitution for the care provided to the animals, known as the Suitcase Six. The judge dropped a charge against Mr. Davis of abandoning the puppies, while Mr. Davis entered no contest pleas to two other charges in the case.
In exchange for his plea, he is expected to be placed on four years' probation, has agreed to neuter the other two dogs that he owns, and has agreed to allow the humane society to make "reasonable inspection" of the two other dogs in his care, which are "Scarface," a male "pit bull" mix believed to be the puppies' father, and a Shih Tzu.
Mr. Davis was in court for a pretrial hearing on two counts of animal abandonment and for an arraignment on a third charge of cruelty to companion animals, defined as a custodian depriving or confining an animal without sustenance or shelter.
All three charges are second-degree misdemeanors that carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine per charge.
Final sentencing was scheduled for June 22, at which time the court will review Mr. Davis' payments in restitution, whether he has complied with the judge's order to neuter his remaining two dogs, and take into consideration what the humane society's finding are after visiting his home, 1813 Harlan Rd. The judge said if he complies with the orders, Mr. Davis will not face jail time. If he does not comply, he could face up to 180 days in jail, or 90 days for each of the remaining two misdemeanor counts.
Judge Kuhlman said he followed the recommendations of Toledo Chief Prosecutor Dave Toska and the humane society.
"They didn't ask for jail time," Judge Kuhlman said. "They asked for things that will insure that in the future this guy isn't going to harm any animals. I agree with the prosecutor and the humane society that our interests are better served by making sure no animals are hurt in the future more so than putting the guy in jail."
Mr. Davis' court-appointed attorney, Amy Stoner, told the court her client was "very apologetic over what happened." She also said she thought four years probation would be "excessive."
Mr. Davis declined to comment after the hearing.
Mr. Toska declined to comment on the absence of jail time in the agreement, as did City Law Director Adam Loukx.
When asked if he thought the city was sending the appropriate message to animal abusers, Mayor Mike Bell said in a statement: "Without knowing the facts presented to the court, I have to trust that the judge made the best decision in the interest of community safety and based on the information available to him."
Mr. Davis was accused of putting the puppies into a canvas suitcase, zipping it up, and leaving it in the alley behind Pete's Market, 3449 Stickney Ave., next to the puppies' mother, who was tied to a large garbage container. The location is about a quarter mile from the house from which he was moving.
The suitcase included a tag with Mr. Davis' name and address, which led to his being cited.
The mother dog, Maddie, a bulldog mix, and the three male and three female puppies have been moved to an area foster home and are doing well, Mr. Dinon said. It has not been determined when they will be available to go up for adoption or how the adoptions will be handled, he said. Hundreds of people -- some from across the world -- have expressed interest in adopting the animals.
If the puppies are deemed to be "pit bull" mixes, it's likely the group will wait until after the state's dangerous dog law changes on May 21 to no longer include "pit bulls" as inherently dangerous, Mr. Dinon said. The humane society will loosen its adoption process for "pit bulls" after that date. Currently a background check and home visit are required.
Before the court hearing Monday morning, a half-dozen people held a protest to decry the fact that Ohio does not consider animal cruelty a felony.
The group behind the rally was supporting pending legislation nicknamed Nitro's Law. Nitro, a Rottweiler, was one of eight dogs who starved to death in 2008 at a canine training facility in Youngstown.
Mike Smeck of Amherst, Ohio, who organized the rally, said he was satisfied with the plea agreement with the exception of Mr. Davis being allowed to keep his other dogs.
"If one can be so cruel as to neglect these beautiful pups, what's to say he will not do something to his two others dogs in the future," Mr. Smeck said. Mr. Smeck said he did not consider what Mr. Davis did to be an "extreme case of abuse, neglect or cruelty, such as injuring or killing a companion animal," which is the kind of case for which the supporters of Nitro's Law are calling for first offense felony charges.
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