Three local Municipal Court Judges recently announced a partnership with PAWSibilities® Humane Society of Greater Akron (“PAWSibilities”) to offer animal cruelty prevention classes for residents facing animal-related crimes.
Beginning in September, Judge Katarina Cook of the Akron Municipal Court, Judge Jill Flagg-Lanzinger of the Barberton Municipal Court, and Judge Lisa Coates from the Stow Municipal Court, together with the Humane Society, will offer an animal cruelty prevention class as a sentencing option for defendants convicted of crimes involving animals under state and local laws.
The class will be called “Care of Animals and Abuse Prevention” or CAAP for short. As the courts have each experienced a rise in the number of animal neglect and abuse cases, it has come to their attention that many of the defendants are from families where there is a cycle of animal mistreatment, and they do not know how to treat their pets appropriately.
Cook said, “I noticed a high rate of repeat offenders and came to the realization that animal crimes are often the product of learned behavior, and that these people are only doing what they have been taught is acceptable. For example, if you grow up in a household where your dog is allowed to roam the streets, you are more likely to let your dog run unleashed as well, which then poses a danger that the dog might get hit by a car, or the dog becomes a danger to others. In fact, allowing a dog to run unleashed is a control of dog violation in the City of Akron, a minor misdemeanor for the first offense.”
Diane Johnson, president and CEO of PAWSibilities, Humane Society of Greater Akron, reported that a 2011 study found a connection between a child witnessing animal abuse and subsequently engaging in animal abuse and bullying behavior. A 2005 study found that animal cruelty committed by children is often symptomatic of future abuse of other animals or people. There also appears to be a correlation between children who reside in homes fraught with domestic violence and the incidence of animal abuse.
For instance, a 2007 study found that 67-percent of children residing in family violence shelters reported witnessing abuse of their family pet, almost 60-percent of children were very upset about the harm to their pets, and 37-percent of the shelter children progressed to harming or killing pets.
Over the past year, Cook said she grew increasingly alarmed about this issue, and in an effort to arrive at a solution, decided to reach out to Johnson. In her conversation with Johnson, Cook learned that as part of its Community Education Programs, The Humane Society, located in Twinsburg, offers classes to both youth and adults designed to promote kindness and appropriate treatment of animals with the goal of encouraging respect and compassion for animals.
Cook and Johnson then came up with the idea of offering those classes to offenders as part of their sentence in an effort to teach practical skills about the treatment of animals and hopefully reduce future recidivism rates. As the Humane Society services all of Summit County, Cook wanted to have a countywide educational program and offer the judges in the other two municipalities the opportunity to join in simultaneously, which would make implementation of the program easier for Johnson.
“I wanted to make it uniform: one name, one program, the same fees and forms to service three courts. It’s a shared services concept,” said Cook.
When Cook conveyed the idea to judges Flagg-Lanzinger and Coates, they said they were equally enthused and immediately agreed to join forces. Flagg-Lanzinger commented, “it’s important that we teach our community the legal and loving way to treat animals. The CAAP class will teach our community the proper care and treatment of our animals. This is an important step in combating violence and neglect toward animals.”
The Humane Society will offer the class to defendants in two parts on a monthly basis beginning in September. Part I will cover the applicable laws as they relate to animal cruelty and the responsibilities of owners toward their animals. Part II will cover topics such as basic pet care, how to make your home and yard safe for animals and disease prevention. Each part will last approximately one and a half hours, and can be taken in any order.
The cost of each part is $40. Upon completion of the class, participants will receive a certificate. Defendants will have 60 days to complete the class and present their certificates to the court in order to fulfill their sentence. Failure to do so may result in the issuance of further sanctions.
While CAAP will initially focus on companion animals, the expectation is that it will eventually include education geared toward farm animals as the program expands.
According to Coates, “in the Stow Municipal Court, both judges have recently dealt with cases of neglect and cruelty to farm animals. I have had a difficult time finding an educational program to address these issues. I look forward to working with the Humane Society to educate these offenders.”
CAAP will also include local veterinarians as guest teachers and as advocates who will visit the animals at the defendants’ homes to check up on their condition. To assist the courts and local attorneys, the Humane Society will provide an informational flyer that includes details about the program and contact information for scheduling the training.
The three participating judges and Johnson say they are excited about this new community partnership and hope that it will achieve the goal of educating future generations of families how to better care for animals and ultimately result in a reduction of animal cruelty cases.
While CAAP will be used in conjunction with the traditional sentencing options, it is Cook’s hope that this will begin the conversation for much needed reforms in handling animal mistreatment cases.
“As Summit County’s advocate for our community’s victims of animal cruelty, we are proud to be a part of this revolutionary program,” said Johnson. “These new educational courses will help us effectively communicate one-on-one vital information regarding humane animal treatment. We are confident that our program will greatly benefit our efforts to end animal cruelty in our community.”
For information about the Akron, Barberton and Stow Municipal Courts’ services and programs, visit courts.akronohio.gov; cityofbarberton.com/oc/court.shtml; www.stowmunicourt.com. For info about PAWSibilities, visit www.summithumane.org.