A Middletown woman is in jail after admitting to three felony charges of animal cruelty, but she avoided a longer prison sentence.
Tina Marie Jackson, 40, was charged with the fifth-degree felonies in February after several dead dogs were found in the backyard of her home. Last month, Jackson pleaded guilty to three of those charges, marking the first felony conviction in Butler County since a 2016 law change.
The charge of cruelty to a companion animal had been a first-degree misdemeanor for years, with a maximum sentence of 180 days. Now it can be classified as a felony in certain cases — usually when there is a prior charge of abuse or extreme cruelty, according to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser. It carries of sentence of up to 12 months in jail.
Judge Greg Stephens sentenced Jackson to 60 days in the Butler County Jail, which he ordered her to start serving right away. Jackson was also placed on five years of probation, ordered not to leave the state and to undergo drug and mental health assessment.
Humane officers found four dead dogs on Jackson’s property Feb. 16. Two of the dogs were found in dog houses, and another was found in a black plastic tote along with a decapitated dog’s head, according to the sheriff’s office.
Jackson said she ran out of dog food, and she never provided bedding in the dog houses to keep the dogs warm. She did not offer an explanation for the decapitated dog.
Three dogs were found to have no food in their stomachs, and the cause of death was ruled starvation. No cause of death was determined for the dog with the severed head due to lack of evidence, officials said.
Before sentencing Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court, Deputy Dog Warden Jen Schwaller told the judge the dogs suffered a long death.
“I would just like to remind the court these dogs had a very drawn-out death,” Schwaller said. “There was not food in their system whatsoever, between that and no shelter provided for them, they suffered in a great way.”
Jackson’s attorney, Jim Hardin, said Jackson and her husband fell on financial hardship that led to the circumstance with the dog and she continues to have other issues including the loss of her children.
Stephens said he did not have the ability to send Jackson to prison due to the sentencing laws for fifth-degree felonies that changed in 2011.
The judge explained Jackson does not have a previous conviction and by statue, animal cruelty is not considered a violent offense - those are two factors that would permit a prison sentence on the low felony.
“If you disagree with that feel free to contact you state legislator,” Stephens said.