LORAIN – The 21 dogs seized as part of a raid on an East 28th Street building will remained with the Friendship Animal Protective League for the time being after the two owners of the animals pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges Tuesday.
At an arraignment in Lorain Municipal Court, Cornelius Charlton, 44, of Lorain, and Lauren Souris, 36, of Olmsted Falls, both pleaded not guilty to 21 charges each of cruelty to companion animals after the Lorain County dog warden and Lorain Police Department took the dogs July 17.
In court Tuesday, there was also a probable cause hearing to determine if the animals should have been taken from the building at 1703 East 28th Street.
Defense attorney Lorraine Coyne said the pair did object that the animals had been taken as the result of a search warrant and were being impounded at the Friendship APL because proof could be obtained that the 21 cane corsos had been cared for.
“The defendants believe they can bring in proof that a veterinarian has been caring for these animals and any animals that they’ve had for the last 20 years,” she said. “They’ve gone to the same veterinarian and can provide that later on this week.”
In his testimony for the probable cause hearing, Lorain police officer Rick Broz, who handles the city’s animal-related calls, said the department received a call from a citizen about barking and the smell of feces coming from the building at 1703 East 28th Street and when we went there, we observed the same thing and only one window was open.
“When you put your hand up to the window you could actually feel a hot breeze coming out of the window,” he said. “Now, if it’s 82 degrees outside and we can feel the heat coming out of the building it’s obviously excessively hot inside. There was power to the building, but we didn’t see air conditioning or hear fans running.”
Broz said officers sought and received a search warrant and began working with the city’s Building, Housing and Planning Department to determine the owner of the building, later identified as Scottie Bowyer. Bowyer said he didn’t have a key to the building, but the renter’s name was Cornelius.
Officers entered the building and Broz said the heat was “oppressive” and the air smelled like dog feces and urine.
“We started noticing dogs in cages by the door,” he said. “A few of these dogs were in travel carriers and they weren’t big enough for the dogs to stand erect. As I passed one of the last small cages, which wasn’t assembled correctly, a dog jumped out at me and bit me on the back of the leg.”
Broz said there was some food in the area and there was water in some of the bowls but in some cases it appeared to be stagnant and had what looked like algae growth.
Broz said some of the dogs were removed with the assistance of a leash but some required a rabies pole and after about five had been removed, Charlton arrived on scene and offered to help remove the rest from the building before Souris said, “Have fun with the rest of the dogs,” and the two left.
Broz said Charlton told him they originally had a kennel out in a rural area but had lost the space.
While the dogs were initially too agitated to receive proper exams, over the course of the next few days, while they calmed down, Broz said doctors were able to give them a once over.
“I finally had a day off on Saturday and I spent most of the day with them,” he said. “The majority of the dogs had terrible skin conditions. I was told by staff they had been treated for fleas and there was piles of dead fleas in the cages after they had been treated. Some of the dogs had eye infections. At least one of them had an ear infection.”
Broz said the building was not a healthy environment for the dogs to return to, using the terms “inhumane” and “barbaric,” and said the amount of exposed wiring in the building made it a fire hazard.
“If this building caught on fire and the Fire Department came, they would try to rescue the dogs, but with these dogs already being so upset and then adding a fire into it to make them more upset, these firemen could have been horribly injured,” he said. “I’m not blaming the dogs. I’m blaming the circumstances.”
Broz said neither the city nor the county had a kennel license on record for Charlton, Souris or their business, Kevlar Kennels, which specializes in breeding cane corsos.
In her testimony, Denise Willis, the chief humane officer for the Friendship APL, said she thought the inside of the East 28th Street building was “deplorable.”
“It was hot. The dogs were in cages. They were in their feces. They were in their urine,” she said. “There were flies everywhere. The stench burned your throat and burned your eyes.”
Willis said initially the dogs were stressed and a few days later, when she was able to get a better look at them, many were suffering hair loss and other skin conditions and two others appeared very thin.
She also said the conditions in the building were very unhealthy for the dogs because if the smells burned the eyes of humans, it was that much worse for the dogs because their senses are better.
Lorain Municipal Court Judge Thomas Elwell said he believed there was probable cause to seize and impound the animals and their continued impoundment is in their best interests.
Elwell said Charlton and Souris’s next court appearance will be Aug, 10 for a pretrial hearing in front of Lorain Municipal Court Judge Mark Mihok.
Mihok will then make a decision regarding bond, which, in this case, would pay Friendship APL for it’s care of the animals, including food and medical expenses.
Before the next court date, Souris is also expected to have paid over $600 in fines for previous animal-related court cases dating back to 2010. A warrant had previously been issued for her arrest involving the cases.
The dogs will stay with Friendship APL for the time being, but following the hearing Executive Director Greg Willey said that puts the organization in a difficult position.
“Now we have 21 very large dogs that are just in limbo for 17 more days,” he said. “That’s hard for the dogs because they’re still in cages and we can’t even put them in foster care. It’s also frustrating because until you know their fate you don’t want to get too attached to them. Seventeen days of uncertainty is really a lot of work because we have other animals coming in, too.”
Willey said Friendship APL has had a phenomenal outpouring of support for these dogs and people have been very generous in donating supplies.
“At this point there are two things people can do to help,” he said. “We’re taking cash donations for care and treatment so that way we can use the money as it’s needed. But on the second Saturday of August we’re having a new volunteer and foster orientation. These dogs can’t be fostered but others can and it can help us make room.”
Willey asked that people keep the 21 dogs in their thoughts.
“I’m sad they’re basically in cages still,” he said. “You want to be able to see them filled with life and joy, not like this.”