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Animal cruelty bill coincides with two Oxford cases

<p>Passing cars honked in response to animal rights protestors outside the Oxford Courthouse.</p>

Passing cars honked in response to animal rights protestors outside the Oxford Courthouse.

Nine adults stood outside protesting in the rain, holding umbrellas in one hand and signs in the other as they gathered in front of the Oxford Courthouse to protest animal abuse. 

One sign said “Honk 2 demand justice 4 animals.” While the group peacefully protested, many passing cars honked to share their enthusiasm for animal protection. 

There was a sense of camaraderie among the protestors because they had all followed two animal cruelty cases — David Neanover’s and now Zichang Li’s — as both go through the court system.

Neanover, a resident from Reilly Township, was charged with cruelty to animals, a second degree misdemeanor, for the death of his two-year old dog, Lou, after failing to feed him. According to Local12, Lou had to resort to eating rocks. 

Li, a Miami sophomore, was charged with cruelty to animals for failure to feed her dog, Dollar, and leaving him in his own excrement.

While the two animal abuse cases are being prosecuted in Oxford, Congress is attempting to change how animal abuse crimes are prosecuted.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act on Oct. 22, making many forms of animal cruelty a federal crime. The bill now faces the U.S. Senate for a vote. 

“The rain doesn’t stop us,” said protestor Nick Bandura. “Compared to what the dog went through, this is nothing.”

Bandura is not an Oxford resident; however, he and his friends have followed Neanover’s case and protested animal cruelty since May 2019. 

Bandura held a laminated photograph of Lou as well as a sign that read “Honk if you want the Maximum penalty 4 animal abuse.” 

“I follow everything animals,” said Oxford resident, Nancy Curtiss. “We’re here protesting them both. It’s a two for one.” 

Those protesting attended both Neanover and Li’s hearings at 10 a.m. on Oct. 31 at the Oxford Courthouse. 

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During Neanover’s hearing, Judge Lyons discussed planning a jury trial date for Neanover’s charges. Neanover’s attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence. 

Li pled no contest to her charges, meaning she will forego a jury trial to allow the presiding judge to decide if she is guilty.   

Li’s attorney, Jing Zhang, translated for Li. Because Li is an international student from China, she could be deported if found guilty, Lyons said.

On Sept. 13, the property management at Oxford Commons, where Li lives, called the Oxford Police Department (OPD) for an animal welfare check, concerned about Li’s rottweiler, Dollar. OPD officer Angela Schatzle went to Li’s apartment and foundDollar, who looked like he had been caged for a prolonged amount of time.

Schatzle told Li to take Dollar to the vet, giving her information for two vet clinics close to Oxford. 

Schatzle checked in multiple times with Li over the next month. On Oct 18, Schatzle found Dollar in a crate filled with a moist pile of feces and could see the dog’s ribs. Schatzle then took Dollar to the vet, and Dollar weighed 45 pounds. 

Dollar remained in the vet’s custody until the court hearing last week, where Judge Jeffrey Bowling ruled that Dollar should no longer be in Li’s custody. Li agreed to give up custody, and Dollar was taken to the Animal Friends Humane Society.

Lyons and Zhang agreed to order a pre-sentence investigation report (PSI). A PSI is a report written by a probation agent of the Department of Corrections with information regarding the case and the defendant, so the judge can make an informed decision about the defendant’s sentencing. 

Li will be sentenced at 10 a.m. on Dec. 19 in the Oxford Courthouse. 

Schatzle said that animal cruelty cases are uncommon in Oxford but supports the bill to make animal cruelty a federal crime. In the past three years, Schatzle said she can only remember four or five cases where the department has criminally charged a suspect. 

“Anything that can give us another tool to prosecute crime is great,” Schatzle said. 

Shatzle said that the bill will not greatly impact the way in which she handles cases. She said the bill would only impact the department in the case of large, out-of-state cases, like a multi-state dog fighting ring. 

Schatzle said the most common problems she deals with in regards to animal control are “dog at large” cases. These typically refer to dogs that have escaped their owners’ property and are not considered under “reasonable control.” These animals are usually roaming around without supervision.

Despite the rarity of animal cruelty cases in Oxford, Shatzle said she has received free training in how to handle animal cruelty cases from the Humane Society

Molly Buckley, a veterinarian at the Animal Care Clinic in Oxford, said that she rarely sees animal cruelty. 

Buckley said she is “disheartened” by the Facebook posts she’s seen criticizing student pet owners as a result of this case. 

“I realize that students are pulled in a lot of directions, and the social aspects of our lives [in] our twenties have heavier weight than our forties,” Buckley said. “But that's normal, and I don't think you can look at a 20-year-old and tell them that they shouldn't have a pet.”

Buckley said that animal education is important for all ages. The Animal Care Clinic helps train pet owners at “pet parties” in apartment buildings around Oxford at the beginning of each semester. The clinic also uses an app called PetDesk to help pet owners stay up to date on information regarding their pet. 

OPD Lieutenant Lara Fening said she believes the main causes for animal cruelty relate to a person’s upbringing, culture, mental illness and insuffient income. For her, giving up the animal would be better than failing to care for it. 

“Even if you’re not a doting animal owner,” Fening said, “no one wants to see an animal suffer.”