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Published: Monday, 11/18/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

LOCAL DOG-FIGHTING CASE

Group seeks new chance for seized area ‘pit bulls’

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Charles McDonald took testimony from Julie Lyle, county dog warden, during the October trial of Carl Steward of Toledo. Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Charles McDonald took testimony from Julie Lyle, county dog warden, during the October trial of Carl Steward of Toledo.
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Like the dogs rescued six years ago from pro-football quarterback Michael Vick’s dog-fighting operation in Virginia, a local rescue and advocacy group for “pit bull”-type dogs hopes to give animals seized in a Toledo dog-fighting case new lives.

The Lucas County Pit Crew has offered to bring in two nationally known experts to evaluate and make recommendations for possible placement of the six American “pit bull” terriers Toledo police seized in January from a vacant house in the 200 block of South Fearing Boulevard.

“Our No. 1 priority is that their lives be spared and they be given an opportunity to be evaluated and go on to have a second chance at a decent life,” said Jean Keating, executive director of the Lucas County Pit Crew.

The dogs’ owner, Carl Steward, 21, was found guilty Oct. 23 of five counts of felony dog fighting in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. Judge Gary Cook, who decided the case after a two-day bench trial, acquitted Steward of a sixth count that pertained to a young female “pit bull” that had no scars or other fighting injuries, such as the other dogs had.

Steward faces up to 18 months in prison on each count when Judge Cook sentences him Wednesday.

Charles McDonald, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, said he could ask the court to place the dogs in the permanent custody of the Lucas County Dog Warden’s Office, but he is still exploring his options.

“The state has been in contact with several organizations — advocacy groups as well as the dog warden’s office — regarding potential options for the dogs,” Mr. McDonald said. “Obviously the goal is to find a situation where safety is paramount — both for the dogs and any individual that may be in contact with the animals.”

Although there haven’t been many recent dog-fighting prosecutions in Toledo, dogs involved in such cases historically were euthanized — at least in part because “pit bulls,” before 2012, were deemed vicious under Ohio law.

Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle testifies during the trial of Carl Steward about a treadmill found at his house. She showed prosecutor Charles McDonald, right, how a dog collar attaches to the treadmill.   Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle testifies during the trial of Carl Steward about a treadmill found at his house. She showed prosecutor Charles McDonald, right, how a dog collar attaches to the treadmill.
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Dog Warden Julie Lyle said that if Steward’s dogs are evaluated and found to be candidates for rehabilitation, it would be the first time, to her knowledge, that will have happened in a Lucas County dog-fighting case.

While the dogs have been kenneled at the dog warden’s office since they were seized Jan. 31, Ms. Lyle said they have not been evaluated for adoptability. They are not aggressive toward humans, she said, but they do show aggression toward other animals, which is typical of dogs trained for fighting.

“I don’t know that they’ve ever been a house pet. I don’t know that they’ve ever been a companion dog,” Ms. Lyle said. “They were a working dog. They were isolated in a room by themselves, chained up in a house where no one lived.”

Acclimating the fighting dogs to a pet’s life could take much time and work.

“We’re not looking to put dogs out in the community [that] are not safe,” she said.

Still, Ms. Lyle said she has spoken with Ms. Keating about the Pit Crew’s offer, and she is open to its proposal. But nothing can happen until after Wednesday’s sentencing.

“Until legally something happens, they are still evidence in a court case so we can’t move them on to another facility,” she said.

Ms. Keating said the Pit Crew is accepting contributions to help pay for the dogs’ care and to bring to Toledo Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer, co-founders of BADRAP, a California-based “pit bull” rescue, education, and advocacy group.

“They are one of the organizations that took in a number of the Michael Vick dogs,” she said.

Vick, then a member of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal dog-fighting charges and was sentenced to 23 months in prison. As part of a plea agreement, he agreed to pay for the care of nearly 50 dogs seized in the operation — the majority of which were subsequently taken in by rescue groups, adopted, or placed in a dog sanctuary.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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