A Middletown woman’s guilty plea Monday to felony animal cruelty charges marked the first felony conviction in Butler County since a 2016 law change.
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.
Jackson’s guilty plea Monday to three counts of felony cruelty to companion animal came a week before her trial was scheduled to begin.
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.
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Jackson’s is the first felony conviction in Butler County since the law changed in 2016. Gmoser said while some other cases ended in misdemeanor conviction, it still gives judges the discretion to sentence those convicted to time in jail on multiple charges.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said charging offenders with felonies and getting a conviction sends a strong message.
“People who abuse and kill animals often graduate to do the same thing to people,” Jones said.
He noted there have been a rash of animal cruelty arrests in Butler County during the past 12 months.
“We are not going to let up on enforcement,” he said.
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Humane officers found four dead dogs on Jackson’s property Feb. 16. Two of the dogs were found in dog houses, another one 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.
Necropsies, which are autopsies performed on animals, were conducted on all four dogs. 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.
Jackson faces up to 12 months in jail on each charge. Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens set her sentencing for Oct. 15.