James Wright, 39, of Sandusky, was sentenced to nine months in prison for prohibitions concerning companion animals, a fifth-degree felony, in the Erie County Common Pleas Court.
Wright was originally indicted on three counts, but he pleaded guilty to one count for the dismissal of the other charges and for the prosecution to not recommend a prison sentence. Wright also agreed to not own dogs during his probation if the court imposed it.
His conviction stems from when authorities found his dogs neglected in a vacant home two years ago. A dead and decaying pit bull was locked in kennel outside. Sandusky police also found a dead puppy inside and an emaciated puppy, which they were able to save.
“It’s tough on anybody who owns animals to see things like this happen,” said Barb Knapp, Erie County’s dog warden, in her statement to the court. “Thank God for the law change where people have to take this more seriously … these dogs didn’t deserve what they got.”
Goddard’s Law, named after animal rights advocate and Cleveland TV meteorologist Dick Goddard, made it a felony to abuse a domestic companion animal in Ohio in 2016.
Animal Advocates of Ohio said Wright was the first person to be convicted of felony animal abuse in Erie County under the law. Others have been charged since the laws implementation, but they have pled down to misdemeanors.
“Your three dogs were abounded without food, water or care by you, Mr. Wright, and because of this lack of simple basic care they paid with their lives,” read a letter written by the Animal Advocates of Ohio.
They asked Judge Roger Binette to give him five years probation and to bar him from owning any animals during that time. But Knapp didn’t believe probation would have any impact on deterring others. She asked for Judge Binette to consider prison.
“I’m not the monster you guys think I am,” Wright said to the court and animal advocates. “I’ve been breeding dogs for 18 plus years. The situation was horrible. I never let anything like that happen before ... I’m taking full responsibility. I made the mistake.”
Wright claimed he moved to Michigan for a time, before returning to Sandusky, and thought someone else was caring for the dogs. But Judge Binette believed after taking care of animals for years he should have known better.
“You said you’ve been breeding and raising dogs for 18 plus years that’s a long time to be caring for animals and to not be cognizant of their needs,” Binette said.
After reviewing Wright’s record, which Binette said included offenses showing a lack of responsibility and bond violations, he decided to impose a prison sentence as a deterrent to others and punishment for Wright.
“I’m glad you said you’re taking responsibility because I’m holding you responsible,” Binette said.
Wright received credit for time already served in the county jail. He was also required to pay $300 in restitution to pay for the puppy’s vet bills. But since a prison sentence was given, the court cannot restrict him from owning animals upon his release.