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‘Suitcase 6’ spur calls for animal cruelty reform

Local rally to push for tougher animal cruelty laws in Ohio

  • CTY-SUITCASESIX-Maddie-puppies

    Maddie and her pups, the ‘Suitcase Six,’ are now in a foster home. The puppies were found zipped in a suitcase in an alley in Toledo with their mother tethered nearby.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Howard-Davis-Suitcase-Six-suspect

    Howard Davis is accused of zipping six puppies into a suitcase and leaving it in an alley.

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Howard Davis is accused of zipping six puppies into a suitcase and leaving it in an alley.

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Residents who have been calling for stronger animal cruelty laws in Ohio are using the case of the Suitcase Six — the litter of puppies left zipped in a suitcase in Toledo — as an example of why they believe the state’s laws should be changed.

A rally is scheduled for 9 a.m. today outside Toledo Municipal Court before a hearing for Howard Davis, accused of abandoning the puppies and leaving them with their mother in an alley.

“We want to make sure Toledo knows we are watching this case very closely,” said Mike Smeck of Amherst, one of the rally’s organizers. “Actually, the world is watching.”

The group behind the rally is supporting pending legislation nicknamed Nitro’s Law. Nitro, a Rottweiler, was one of eight dogs who starved to death in 2008 at a canine training facility in Youngs­town.

The proposed law would make animal cruelty a felony in Ohio. House Bill 108 passed in the House on Feb. 15 and was assigned March 21 to the Senate Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee.

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Mr. Davis, 53, of 1813 Harlan Rd. is to be in court for a pretrial hearing on two counts of animal abandonment and for an arraignment on a third charge of cruelty to companion animals, defined as a custodian depriving or confining an animal without sustenance or shelter.

All three charges are second-degree misdemeanors and carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine per charge.

CTY-SUITCASESIX-Maddie-puppies

Maddie and her pups, the ‘Suitcase Six,’ are now in a foster home. The puppies were found zipped in a suitcase in an alley in Toledo with their mother tethered nearby.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

A 2011 survey by the Animal Legal Defense Fund of the animal protection laws of each state and territory in the United States reveals that considerable differences remain in the strength and comprehensiveness of each jurisdiction’s laws.

Ohio is ranked 31st, meaning 30 states in the country are considered to have stronger animal protection laws.

Each jurisdiction received a numerical ranking based on its combined score and was grouped into a top, middle, or bottom tier. Ohio is in the middle tier, according to the California-based group, which for more than three decades has been fighting to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.

“Ohio’s animal cruelty code isn’t as bad as some states, such as Kentucky, but it leaves much room for improvement before it can be compared to Michigan, Illinois, or even Oregon,” said Scott Heiser, who runs the fund’s criminal justice program and was a prosecutor for more than 17 years.

Michigan’s score ranks it as third-best in the nation for animal protection, according to the defense fund.

In Mr. Heiser’s opinion, the case against Mr. Davis is undercharged, with only three counts of abandonment instead of seven.

“Maddie and her six puppies comprise seven unique victims of criminal conduct here,” he said, citing Ohio Revised Code section 2941.25, as applied in the case State vs. Lapping, where the defendant’s neglect of each of 28 cows qualified as separate offenses.

He said it’s very hard to compare sentencing outcomes from state to state because so many factors influence the amount of jail time a judge will impose in any criminal case.

“To be honest, while the duration of a jail term is a key factor in measuring the degree of justice dispensed, one can make a compelling case that a post-conviction possession ban is equally, if not more, important in preventing further abuses by a defendant,” Mr. Heiser said.

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Mr. Davis, the defendant in the Toledo case, and his wife have three dogs licensed to them, including a male “pit bull”-type, which probably is the puppies’ father, according to the Toledo Humane Society.

Mr. Davis did not respond to a knock on his door Friday, but the dog, who a neighbor said is named “Scarface,” was tethered in the back of Mr. Davis’ property, as witnessed from the neighbor’s yard.

At least one small dog could be heard barking inside the house.

In Ohio, the court has the discretion to limit a person convicted of abusing a companion animal from having other animals, Mr. Heiser said.

“I would suggest that the people of Ohio would support the expansion of this law to apply automatically as it does in the higher ranked states, akin to the ex-con in possession of a firearm, and that it also apply to those who are convicted of abusing any animal, not just in cases where companion animals are abused,” he said.

Mr. Davis pleaded not guilty to two charges of animal abandonment on April 13 before visiting Judge Charles Wittenberg.

The third charge of cruelty to companion animals was filed by the Toledo Area Humane Society after the initial hearing.

Mr. Davis is to enter his plea on that charge today. He is to be in court for a pretrial hearing on the abandonment charges at the same time, all before Judge Timothy Kuhlman.

Mr. Davis is accused of putting the puppies into a canvas suitcase, zipping it up, and leaving it in the alley behind Pete’s Market, 3449 Stickney Ave., next to the puppies’ mother, who was tied to a large garbage container.

The location is about a quarter mile from the house from which he was moving.

Mr. Davis has two prior misdemeanor convictions from April 11, 2008, for failing to obtain liability insurance for vicious dogs and failing to keep a vicious or dangerous dog on a chain-link leash less than 6 feet long.

The mother dog, Maddie, a bulldog mix, and the three male and three female puppies have been moved to an area foster home and are doing well, said John Dinon, humane society executive director.

His agency handled the investigation of the case.

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066

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