6 ‘pit bulls’ used in dogfights spared by judge

Warden to decide fate; owner gets sent to jail

Carl Steward, 21, of Toledo, left, with attorney Phil Carlisle, appears before Lucas County Judge Gary Cook as Steward is sent to jail for five dog-fighting convictions, all felonies.
Carl Steward, 21, of Toledo, left, with attorney Phil Carlisle, appears before Lucas County Judge Gary Cook as Steward is sent to jail for five dog-fighting convictions, all felonies.

In what is believed to be a first for Lucas County, six “pit bull”-type dogs seized in a dog-fighting operation were ordered Wednesday to be surrendered to the county dog warden rather than euthanized.

Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook said the dogs — five of which bore scars from fighting — would be in the custody of Dog Warden Julie Lyle, who evaluate them and determine their future.

“If they can be determined by the dog warden to be suitable for some sort of placement with a family, that is up to the Lucas County dog warden,” he said. “If the determination is that they must be destroyed, then so be it. The dog warden will have the freedom to make that determination.”

Judge Cook made his remarks at the sentencing of the dogs’ former owner, Carl Steward, 21, of 716 Cherry St., who was convicted Oct. 23 of five counts of dog fighting after a bench trial. The judge acquitted Steward on one count of dog fighting relating to a young female “pit bull” that had no scars and had not been bred.

Telling Steward he didn’t think “anyone could rationally believe the story that you tried to present to this court as far as your care and concern as an animal lover,” the judge sentenced Steward to six months in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, near Stryker, followed by six months at the Correctional Treatment Facility in Toledo, three months in Lucas County’s work-release program, and three months on electronic monitoring.

The judge also placed Steward on community control for five years, assigned him 100 hours of community service, and required him to undergo random drug testing and maintain employment. If he violates the terms of community control, he could face up to 50 months in prison, Judge Cook said.

Steward was banned from owning another dog and ordered to pay $12,030 in restitution to the dog warden to cover housing and veterinary care costs for five of the dogs since they were seized Jan. 31.

Toledo police were responding to a report of a suspicious person when they discovered Steward’s dogs chained to the floor in an otherwise vacant, boarded-up house in the 200 block of South Fearing Boulevard. A wooden treadmill and other equipment typically used in dog fighting also were confiscated.

“The house was a three-story training ground and kennel, if you will, for fighting dogs,” Judge Cook said.

The judge said he was not sending Steward to prison because the charges were fourth-degree felonies and the convictions were Steward’s first felony convictions, and under those circumstances state law supports community control rather than prison.

Steward made no statement when given the opportunity. His attorney, Phil Carlisle, asked the court for community control, saying his client had “no history of this type of conduct.”

Charles McDonald, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, asked for some incarceration even if it were local jail time. “It’s naïve to think this defendant is the only dog fighter in this community,” Mr. McDonald said.

In seeking restitution and surrender of the dogs, the prosecutor said the dogs were different than inanimate property or evidence seized in other criminal cases.

“This isn’t a crowbar or a knife or a weapon being held in a property room somewhere as contraband,” Mr. McDonald said. “It’s living property. It requires food, medicine, and shelter.”

While Steward could have faced up to 18 months in prison on each charge, Ms. Lyle said after the hearing that the judge followed the law in imposing the sentence he did.

“We’re pleased to take possession of the dogs and begin the evaluations,” she said.

The Lucas County Pit Crew has offered to pay to bring in two nationally known experts in rehabilitating “pit bull”-type dogs used in dog fighting. Ms. Lyle said she was open to working with the Pit Crew and other “reputable transfer partners” that are interested in taking the dogs.

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