Osaigbovo Oshodin said he was unaware Ohio state law prohibited killing a dog with a machete.
“I didn't know [it was illegal],” said Mr. Oshodin, who is accused of helping his brother, Osahon Oshodin, chain up his family's rottweiler mix in the backyard of his West Toledo home and slit its throat with an 18-inch machete Tuesday night. The men were arrested and charged with animal cruelty.
State law says “no person shall destroy a domestic animal ... by any method other than a method that immediately and painlessly renders the domestic animal initially unconscious and subsequently dead.”
Investigators from the Toledo Humane Society said an investigation will show the dog “struggled for some time and suffered severe torment,” investigator Jed Mignano said.
Mr. Mignano said the Oshodins' act qualifies as animal cruelty because under state law “ritual slaughter” must comply with the requirements for humane methods. He also noted that in Ohio, the code on ritual slaughter only applies to livestock.
The Oshodins are fighting the charge. They said they killed the dog as a ritual sacrifice necessary in Edo, the west African faith they practice. Osaigbovo Oshodin told authorities he had a premonition of bad luck about an upcoming trip, and so he and his brother sacrificed the dog, planned to eat it, and leave his car keys sitting in the dog's blood for two days for “purification.”
“This is a clash between Ohio Revised Code and African tradition,” said Clifton Crais, a professor of history at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. “What gets lost in the conflict is how people are welcomed in communities, and how they relate to each other.”
Edo is one of a group of religions practiced by the Yoruba people in western Africa, said Elias Bongmba, an associate professor of religious studies at Rice University in Houston. Experts did not agree on Edo beliefs and practices, but Mr. Bongmba said the Oshodins were probably offering a sacrifice to the divinity Ogun, the god of iron, war, and hunting.
“He is the patron of hunters, smiths, warriors - all who deal in iron, steel, and technology. Hence the ritual of dipping the car keys in the blood of the dog,” said Mr. Bongmba. “This was really a prayer asking the god for a blessing for the car and the voyage.”
The Oshodins could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Bongmba added that in Edo myth, Ogun was said to use a machete to cut a path through the clouds to enable other gods to descend and “commune with the people.” He said this is likely why the Oshodins used a machete to kill the dog.
Nigerian taxi drivers often sacrifice a dog and smear its blood on the front bumper of their vehicle to ensure good fortune on an upcoming trip, Mr. Crais said. He likened the Oshodins' act to these sacrifices.
“These taxi drivers go considerable distances, and the further you go from home, the more vulnerable you are to evil deeds of others,” he said. “You need to ritualistically empower yourself so you and the people you leave behind are strengthened.”
Osaigbovo Oshodin, 44, said he came to the United States from Nigeria 15 years ago, but his brother Osahon, 21 - who is charged with actually killing the dog - has only lived here for two months.
Mr. Crais said the insecurity that comes with being far from home could prompt this kind of sacrifice.
University professors can hypothesize about the Oshodins' motives. The brothers still have to prove in court that killing the dog was a religious act - and not all experts agree they will be able to do so.
“Too many people do things like this: They eliminate a dog for other reasons, and then claim it was a cultural practice,” said Nkiru Nzegwu, a professor of Africana studies at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. “Religion isn't comprised of irrational acts. What evidence do they have that they systematically practiced this religion?”
Ms. Nzegwu said without a proper altar and symbols of the appropriate deity, the “sacrifice” would be meaningless.
She suggested the Oshodins' defense of the killing as a religious act preys upon a general American misunderstanding of African culture.
“This claim creates a notion of Africa as “the other,” a home of irrational practices,” she said. “ I very much resent people continually mystifying African culture in the 21st century.”