CLEVELAND - Animal rights activists gave a Cuyahoga County judge a standing ovation in court Tuesday morning, following her sentence of a man who took a plea deal in a dogfighting case.
Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula sentenced Collin Rand Jr., 33, to six months in jail, five years community control, and more than $12,000 in fines, restitution and court costs. Rand is never allowed to own a dog.
If Rand violates the sentence, the judge said she would send him to prison for more than 12 years.
Rand pleaded guilty to six counts of dogfighting, four counts of cruelty to animals, one count of drug trafficking and one count of carrying a concealed weapon.
Of his six-month jail sentence, Sutula said "it's a crime in and of itself. If I had the freedom and the discretion, you'd be serving a lot longer sentence, Mr. Rand. Much, much longer. In fact - probably like 27 years. A year for each dog."
The activists applauded the judge, and said they understood she sentenced Rand to the maximum amount allowed by law. The ovation came when Judge Sutula said in court that Ohio needs stronger laws to protect animals and punish their abusers.
The activists in court support state House Bill 108, which would make animal abuse a felony in Ohio. They wore T-shirts with the phrase "Hope for the 27."
Police found 27 dogs tied up at Rand's home on Dec. 22, 2011. The dogs were malnourished and had open wounds and scars. Officers also found a fighting ring and a treadmill with plywood sides to contain the dogs.
In court, it was disclosed some of the dogs had spent their entire lives enclosed in small cages, and their bodies had conformed to the cage walls.
Some dogs needed immediate medical care, and others went to foster homes. Some had to be humanely euthanized.
Vanessa Petrosky is a volunteer long-term foster mom to animals. She told the court nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she went to see the animals taken from Rand's home on East 91st Street.
"Cages full - row after row - of barking, shivering, coughing, cowering, quivering... the smell was appalling," Petrosky said. "It was pure heartbreak, and we were all overcome by tears."
Rand had claimed he acquired the dogs in the condition they were found in, and that he was trying to find them new homes. He thanked the volunteers for getting the dogs the care and support that they needed.
"I assure them that I will never own a dog again, and that I am very sorry for my actions, and I apologize once again, thank you, your honor," Rand said.
The judge was incredulous.
"I find your explanations and your statements to be totally incredible," Judge Sutula said. "They are not worthy of belief. No one with a heart could look at these animals and not get help."
The judge also said Rand's letter to her in July offended her. The letter stated he needed to serve less time in county jail on the drug count because he had seven children, who are with different women.
Judge Sutula also ordered him to register for child support for all of the children within five days of his release from jail.
"I fear for those children's lives, and how they are being raised," Judge Sutula said. "Other people don't need to support your children. You need to do that."
During the sentencing, the judge also referenced the stack of letters on her bench.
"I have never received more letters on any case in 21 years as I have on this case," the judge said. "I have never received such... touching letters on any case. In one way I'm saddened by that because I've had many murders and child abuse cases. I wish I had received as many letters on those as I have on this. But certainly, this is an egregious situation."
Judge Sutula said she has a rescue dog in her home, and was grateful her pet was rescued at a young age.
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