A Toledo man accused of training six American Pit Bull Terriers for dog fighting took the witness stand Tuesday, contending he had never been involved in dog fighting but was training at least one of the dogs for treadmill racing, a legal sport.
“I just like American Pit Bulls, and I like going to shows,” Carl Steward told Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook, who is presiding over the bench trial.
Mr. Steward, 21, of 716 Cherry St., is charged with six counts of dog fighting, a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison. After hearing two full days of testimony, Judge Cook took the matter under advisement, saying he would announce a verdict today.
Toledo police, responding to a call of a suspicious person Jan. 31, found the dogs inside a home at 230 S. Fearing Blvd., a home Mr. Steward told the court he’d been leasing and fixing up but not living in. He said he had pulled up the carpet then put plastic and wood chips on the floor to make it easier to clean up after the dogs, four of which were confined with chains and two in cages.
“With a crate, they can get out by chewing on it and an incident could happen,” Mr. Steward said.
Authorities seized the six dogs — five of whom had numerous scars and injuries consistent with fighting — and various equipment associated with dog fighting, including a wooden treadmill, heavy chains bolted to the floor, a hanging scale, antibiotics and de-wormers intended for horses, and three animal hides used to bait dogs in training.
Charles McDonald, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, questioned Mr. Steward repeatedly about why he never told investigators he was training his dogs for treadmill racing and asked him how some of his dogs had received fresh wounds.
Mr. Steward insisted the dogs were scarred when they were given to him by people in the neighborhood who wanted to get rid of them. And he denied seeing any fresh wounds when he last checked on them Jan. 30.
Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, said all of the evidence he examined points to dog fighting, although he conceded under cross-examination by defense attorney Phil Carlisle that he had not inspected the dogs or the house in person.
Mr. Carlisle told the court in closing arguments that prosecutors had not proved Mr. Steward was keeping or training the dogs for fighting.
“Mr. Steward is a young man who has testified has always had an interest in dogs,” he said. “We may not agree with the way that he kept his dogs or the way he cared for his dogs, but I think based on his testimony I think it’s clear that he did the best he could under his own personal circumstances and according to his own personal background and upbringing.”
Mr. McDonald said that while the case was circumstantial, there could be no other conclusion.
“The aggression that was placed in these dogs cannot be removed,” he said. “The scars cannot be erased, but we can still speak for these dogs in the community. We can show that we will not tolerate the disgusting mistreatment of our animals, and on this point, judge, the evidence is clear: These dogs were kept and/or trained by Carl Steward for the purpose of dog fighting.”
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