By ALLIE VUGRINCIC
It was a Sunday when a citizen notified Jason Cooke of Healthy Hearts and Paws Project that a senior Schnauzer had been found outside Mr. D’s Food Fair on Warren-Sharon Road in Brookfield.
By Monday, someone responded to Cooke’s “lost dog” social media post, certain that it was her stepfather’s dog. On the same day, William Metzinger came to collect the dog, and smiled as he posed for a picture taken by Cooke — reunited, it seemed.
That was around 9:30 am, Cooke said. At about 10:20 am the Mahoning County Dog Warden found Dolly running loose on Meridian Road near Mahoning Avenue in Austintown — a more than 20-minute drive away.
“At that point, I suspected what happened was that he had left here and then immediately left her at the corner of Meridian and Mahoning Avenue,” Cooke said. “The only reason he picked her up in the first place was because the stepdaughter notified him that somebody had found the dog, I believe.”
Metzinger, 75, of Merwin Chase Road, Brookfield, is now facing charges of abandoning animals and obstructing official business.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment Tuesday in the Trumbull County Eastern District Court. He is scheduled to appear in front of Judge Marty D. Nosich on June 30, according to court records.
Metzinger could not be reached for comment.
“The problem is, well, not only did he break the law, but he possibly put that dog in a tremendous amount of danger,” Cooke said, adding that Dolly could have been hit by a car or picked up by someone with bad intentions . Plus, he noted, many people will go out of their way to avoid hitting a dog in the road — potentially causing serious car accidents.
NOT A RARITY
Unfortunately, Dolly’s story isn’t that unusual.
Lori Shandor, CEO of the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, said the shelter regularly gets calls from people wanting to surrender pets. Usually, they are placed on a waiting list.
“What becomes problematic is when they don’t go through the steps and they just either tie the animal outside and leave, or just leave their house and close the door behind them and leave the animals behind to fend for themselves inside,” Shandor said . “It happens more often than I think a lot of people would realize.”
When animals are left inside homes, rescuers sometimes don’t find out in time, she said.
Shandor said abandoning an animal, even on the property of an animal rescue, is illegal. The Ohio Revised Code sets it as a second-degree misdemenor.
The reasons why people choose to surrender or illegally abandon animals vary, though it often comes down to a person or moving family, a senior going into a long-term care facility or a lifestyle change such as a lost job or a divorce, Shandor said .
When Brookfield police initially questioned Metzinger, he said Dolly had run out of the house and he thought she would return, according to a police report. He told police that after picking the dog up the next day, it ran out of the house again.
Metzinger’s stepdaughter told police that Metzinger likes to travel, and might have tried to abandon the dog so he could do so.
Police checked video surveillance at Mr. D’s Food Fair and then at Hank’s Car Wash across the street. The car wash footage showed a vehicle matching Metzinger’s pull into the driveway of nearby Obrien’s Storage. A minute later, the passenger side door opened and a small animal was placed on the ground before the vehicle left in the direction of Metzinger’s home.
When police later showed Metzinger the video, he was admitted to abandoning the dog both in Brookfield and again in Austintown.
“He had no right to do what he did,” Cooke said of Metzinger.
He said while most shelters are full right now — Cooke has 51 dogs at Healthy Hearts and Paws, and the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County has more than 170 animals in its care and an additional 270 dogs, cats, and exotic pets on a waiting list — shelters will try to assist pet owners in other ways.
Cooke makes rehoming posts on Facebook when he cannot take animals at the shelter. Healthy Hearts and Paws also has animals spayed or neutered to increase their adoption, or recommends training or medical care as needed.
“Just because the facility is full doesn’t mean that there aren’t other avenues to pursue, but the one avenue you never pursue is abandoning your dog,” Cooke said.
Sitting in a sunny field outside Health Hearts and Paws, Cooke spoke while Winston, another rescue dog, bounced along in the high grass. “Senior tripod,” three-legged Winston was found mostly paralyzed and was nursed back to health.
Winston clearly used to be someone’s pet, too, Cooke said.
“I look at Winston and I imagine how he felt when nobody came for him, and I can’t even imagine how Dolly felt… this is a senior Schanuzer. This dog has been in a home her entire life,” Cooke said.
Fortunately for Dolly, Metzinger’s stepdaughter took her in. Cooke said he believes she is now getting the love and attention she deserves.
As for Metzinger, Cooke said he hopes he is never allowed to own an animal again.
“This should serve as a warning to anyone that’s even considering abandoning their animals,” Cooke said.