Animal cruelty case highlights limbo for Butler County dogs that are evidence in possible trials

A resolution to a Butler County animal cruelty case led to the release of nine dogs that were evidence in the case, but local animal rights activists say a hearing wasn’t held that would have saved the shelter much time and money.

The dogs were seized from a St. Clair Twp. junkyard in July and spent more than 200 days living separate from other animals at the Animal Friends Humane Society in Hamilton. They also could not be adopted because they were evidence in the animal cruelty case of David White, 56, of Trenton Road.

According to Tara Bowser, executive director of the humane society, the organization had to house and care for the dogs for months during White’s case. But, Bowser said keeping the dogs as evidence for 212 days could have been avoided with a hearing that did not take place. The law states that a hearing should take place within 10 days of the animal being seized, she said.

As part of that pre-trial hearing, a judge can determine an appropriate bond for the housing and care of the animals, and if the bond is not met within that 30 days, then custody of the animals is awarded to the agency that’s caring for them.

That would have meant in the White case, $20,000-plus in expenses would not have been incurred by the humane society because he would have been paying for care the dogs would have been relinquished for adoption, she said.

“But that didn’t happen,” Bowser said, adding it hasn’t happened in cases in years.

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In July, the Butler County Dog Warden’s Office received a call about multiple dogs living in a junkyard in St. Clair Twp. White willingly surrendered a litter of seven puppies and an eighth puppy was found dead on the property, according to Bowser.

The deputy dog wardens told White to get immediate veterinary care for the remaining 18 dogs on the property, as well as provide proper shelter and food/water to all of them, otherwise he would be facing 26 counts of animal cruelty, according to Bowser.

When White failed to follow the instructions, the wardens went back out and seized the remaining 18 dogs and brought them the shelter. Animal Friends has a contract with Butler County to house and care for all animals that are part of an ongoing cruelty/neglect cases.

On Feb. 18, White pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor attempted cruelty to companion animals. Visiting Judge Mark Hardig sentenced him to two years supervised community control, gave him a suspended 60 days in jail and ordered that the dog warden’s officer have permission to check on future animals in White’s possession at any time. He also surrendered the nine remaining dogs to the shelter.

Bowser said Monday all the dogs have been adopted, but there is still no resolution to the cost incurred.

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Bowser said the agency met with Hamilton prosecutors a few years ago, noting how they interpreted the law. There were differences of opinion and at one time prosecutors rotated duties in that court. She also pointed out in the White case, the judge did not even order restitution.

Since the social media post, Bowser said the sheriff’s office has reached out about the issue and she will be meeting this week with Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer.

Dwyer said it does appear there is a component in the law for the forfeiture of the dogs or to assure compensation to the agency.

“But it is not traditional,” he said. “We are aware of it now. In some cases like this, it should be done to compensate Animal Friends for care for an extended period of time.”

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In many animal cruelty cases, the animals in question are dead while the case moves through the court system. In a case with live animals that are evidence, there are other ways to ensure that case is presented without keeping the animals caged for months, Dwyer said.

After meeting with Bowser, Dwyer said he will also talk with prosecutors in the area courts and Hamilton.

Vaughn Stupart, the Hamilton Municipal Court prosecutor, said there here has never been such a hearing that he is aware of in the court, but there could be in the future.

“It’s a great idea,” he said.

Stupart said White’s case was set for several hearings and trial. White continued to deny he had harmed the dogs.

“He was living in this junkyard with these dogs and breeding them and selling them,” Stupart said. “He contested the charges from the beginning. He said he needed them healthy to breed them.”

White cannot pay restitution for the care of the dogs, nor could he have paid any court-ordered bond for their care, Stupart said.

“We focused on getting the dogs signed over, I did not think a $20,000 bill he couldn’t pay should be the sticking point,” Stupart said.

Bowser said the agency was told by Stupart it could file a civil suit against White to recover the cost of care.

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