With our annual Defend Your Friend 5K coming up on October 12, our sponsor and friends at VCA Animal Hospitals offered up some great tips for running with your best furry friend.
Columbus Humane’s Cruelty Investigations Department (CID) is responsible for investigating cases of animal cruelty, neglect and abandonment in Franklin County. Under the Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 1717.06, commissioned Humane Agents enforce all local and state laws pertaining to the care and treatment of animals. This is in response to reports from members of the public, partner agencies including other law enforcement agencies, health departments, code enforcement and social service agencies. What is not know to many, is that CID is also responsible for investigating hoarding cases and large scale organized animal fighting.
In the spring of 2016, in concert with the Columbus Division of Police Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU), the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Columbus Humane conducted the largest dogfighting investigation in our organization’s history. Warrants were served at five (5) different locations concurrently, concluding a two-year investigation of dogfighting in the Columbus and Detroit areas. Forty-five (45) dogs were impounded, and four individuals received federal indictments for dogfighting (all of which have since pleaded guilty).
Because of the in-depth nature of this investigation and focus needed to execute it successfully, the case inspired the creation of a new taskforce within CID – the Major Case Unit (MCU). The MCU was designed to model larger law enforcement agencies and how they investigate their most abhorrent crimes.
The MCU is responsible for complaints of animal fighting, beatings and torture, extreme hoarding situations, and other high-profile cruelty cases. The MCU consists of a few select humane agents, the CID court liaison, clerical support, and a media spokesperson. Personnel can change from case to case, and are chosen based on the type of case being investigated and the resources needed.
Since MCU’s inception in April 2016, fifteen cases have been filed. Eighteen individuals have been charged, and 940 animals of a variety of different species have been impounded.
Three of these cases involved animal fighting, while others concerned animal hoarding, a pet store, a backyard breeder, a wildlife control company, and the torture of a live mouse. Two were graphic cases of active abuse, and were filed as felonies under Goddard’s Law. Six of the cases are still pending, while the others resulted in guilty convictions.
Back in January of 2017, Columbus Humane executed a search warrant at a local Columbus pet store called Captive Born Reptiles. Two anacondas with severe physical injuries were seized, and the owner, Terry Wilkins, was charged criminally. After a long, drawn-out court process, MCU finally had the opportunity to see this case go to trial. In August of 2018, a resolution finally came – a jury of his peers found Wilkins guilty on all counts. He is currently awaiting sentencing. Working with the Ohio Department of Agriculture on this case was imperative to the investigation and successful conviction of Terry Wilkins. Their investigation of Wilkins (who also violated several ODA regulations) uncovered maltreatment and neglect of the animals in his care, which helped build the probable cause needed to obtain our own search warrant.
In August 2018, the MCU was involved the seizure of 617 birds from a small Clintonville home. The birds, including Cockatiels, Finches, Lovebirds, Parrots, and other more exotic types, were housed in unsanitary conditions without access to adequate food and water. Many birds were obese and suffering from fatty liver disease, while others were underweight and presented with varying medical conditions. The population density was far too high for one person to care for adequately. This case boasts the largest number of animals impounded in Columbus Humane’s history, and would not have been possible without the assistance of our colleagues at the ASPCA. The defendant in this case, Susan Stieve, quickly pled guilty less than a month after the animals were seized. As a condition of her plea agreement, the defendant was put on probation for 5 years and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to Columbus Humane. This sum may sound large, but it is dwarfed by the total cost Columbus Humane incurred for this operation, which neared $100,000.
Most recently, the MCU executed a dogfighting warrant in conjunction with a narcotics warrant executed by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Department Agriculture. Twenty (20) dogs were rescued from a dogfighting operation and we were found to have probable cause against the defendant on April 10, 2019. The defendant was then charged with eight counts of dogfighting and fourteen counts of cruelty to companion animals.
The assistance Columbus Humane receives from other organizations and law enforcement agencies is critical to the success of these cases. This support is not limited to those acknowledged here. Furthermore, these exemplary cases highlight the chief goal of MCU – to efficiently and effectively investigate our community’s most serious and disturbing crimes against animals. The expectation for MCU is to facilitate better relationships between Columbus Humane, the community we serve, and other law enforcement and governmental agencies.
You may remember that back in 2016 we had a flood. And it was a doozy. Much of our veterinary hospital was destroyed and we found ourselves faced with the critical need to rebuild and renovate.
As we took a look at renovating a portion of our facility, we also recognized that the entire building was outdated and no longer met our needs and the needs of our animals. That’s when we embarked on a $3 million project to transform our facility into a state-of-the-art shelter that provides a more enriching and healthier environment for the animals in our care and better serves the nearly 30,000 people who visit us each year.
The October opening of Gigi’s Shelter for Dogs in Canal Winchester and is going to change the face of animal welfare and pet adoption across our state and, someday, across the country.
Since 2012, Columbus Humane has partnered with rural Ohio shelters on an established transfer program. Many rural shelters have an abundance of dogs who need homes but are under-funded and under-resourced. Here at Columbus Humane, we sometimes don’t have enough dogs for the people who want to adopt their best friends! Because of this, we’ve worked with these shelters, most notably Scioto County to vaccinate the dogs in their care so they stay healthy during their stay at the “source” shelter, then transfer a number of them to Columbus Humane to be vetted and adopted. This program has worked wonderfully!
But now this can happen on a much larger scale through Gigi’s, the long-term vision of George Skestos, owner of Trinity Homes. Gigi’s is a state-of-the-art, 15,000-square-foot facility equipped to house approximately 40 adult dogs and puppies. It serves as a midway point between shelters in rural areas that have an abundance of homeless dogs (source shelters) and shelters who have unmet capacity to get dogs adopted into great homes (destination shelters).
Four shelters in rural areas – Scioto, Lawrence, Gallia and Jackson counties – have been selected to be part of the partnership. Additionally, Franklin County Animal Control will be included in the transfer program for a total of five source shelters. Source shelters receive ongoing support such as vaccines, supplies, equipment and coaching from Columbus Humane. Their responsibility is to conduct disease protocol training for staff, utilize immunizations and implement changes that can help keep their dog population healthy from the start.
At Gigi’s, dogs receive thorough medical exams, behavior assessments and any needed grooming. Any medical conditions are treated in the on-site veterinary hospital. All dogs are spayed or neutered and microchipped before they are transported to Columbus Humane (or another future destination shelter) for adoption. Thanks to this program, when the dogs reach Columbus Humane, they are immediately ready for adoption. This means more dogs in happy homes faster!
Gigi’s and our partnership is so innovative that we can’t wait to see the impact it can truly make for more than 1,200 dogs each year across Ohio. Stay tuned for more updates and success stories from Gigi’s!