An official video that shows an employee of the Lucas County dog pound evidently putting an unaggressive dog in a choke hold, slamming it against a kennel door, and then throwing it inside the cage did not provide enough evidence of animal cruelty to satisfy a Toledo Municipal Court judge.
But even though Aaron Nova was acquitted last week of misdemeanor cruelty charges, Dog Warden Julie Lyle’s previous decision to fire him remains proper and should be upheld.
Judge Timothy Kuhlman said that because prosecutors did not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mr. Nova hurt the dog last summer in a way that caused “pain and suffering,” he could not be convicted under Ohio’s animal cruelty law. The dog, which had been available for adoption, was not considered aggressive.
Mr. Nova’s lawyer argued that his client slipped on urine on a grate on the kennel floor — something the video does not conclusively confirm — just before the tape appeared to show him throwing the dog against a cage and then roughly picking up the animal to place it inside. The judge noted that the dog can’t testify in its own behalf.
The state law seems to permit enough latitude in its definitions to allow a judge to apply a contemporary community standard of cruelty. Instead of invoking such discretion, Judge Kuhlman applied the strictest, and narrowest, standard.
Such an interpretation is reminiscent of the traditional notion of animals as chattel, to which humans legally could do all sorts of unpleasant things. That attitude informed the operations of the Dog Warden’s office under Ms. Lyle’s predecessor, Tom Skeldon.
Ms. Lyle has worked hard and generally well to institute standards of humane, decent treatment of animals at the county pound. Any effort to return Mr. Nova to his job, and to reward him with back pay after his acquittal, could undo much of her good work. She told a Blade reporter: “People look to us to be the example, people look to us to be the resource, on how dogs should be treated.”
The union that represents employees of the Dog Warden’s office contested Ms. Lyle’s decision to fire Mr. Nova, a holdover from the Skeldon regime, as an inappropriate exercise of discipline. A representative said the union now will appeal his dismissal to the Lucas County Board of Commissioners.
But an acquittal on criminal charges is not the same thing as saying that Mr. Nova did nothing wrong. The county board, which tolerated Mr. Skeldon’s conduct for too long, would make clear that times have changed by rejecting any demand for Mr. Nova’s reinstatement.
It’s to be hoped that if an arbitrator heard the case, he or she would take a broader view than Judge Kuhlman did of what constitutes unacceptable treatment of dogs at the county pound, and would impose proper accountability.