Arrest made in dog dispute case

HOPE — Bartholomew County Sheriff deputies arrested a local woman for criminal trespassing at a rural Hope farm Saturday morning after she went on to the property to check on a dog there involved in a dispute between animal rights activists and the dog owners.

Nena Cheap, 65, of 880 Driftwood Ave., Columbus, was arrested at 10:20 a.m. Saturday at a farm in the 10000 block of East County Road 450N which animal rights activists have targeted saying an Australian shepherd there named Buddy was being required to stay outdoors during the recent heat wave.

Deputies said the owners of the dog, Donald Burton and Linda Ziegler, called in a trespassing complaint when they saw Cheap on their property near Buddy’s pen, which was also recorded on security cameras.

Cheap, who was on the property along with her car, a black Nissan, told deputies she saw the dog from the roadway and had stopped to see if it was OK, and that she had never been at the property before. She later told deputies that she had seen Facebook posts from an animal advocacy group in Bartholomew County and had actually also been on the property Friday as well.

Deputies said there are three “no trespassing” signs posted on the farm property that are clearly visible.

Cheap was scheduled to be released from the Bartholomew County Jail on Saturday on the probation department program that allows qualifying defendants to be released without having to post bond. However her bond was set at $5,000, jail officials said, and the program states that her status can be revoked if she fails to attend court hearings.

The dispute about the dog has continued for several months but has culminated into a barrage of service calls to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department for welfare checks on the dog, as many as about a dozen in just 36 hours, and repeated complaints from the dogs owners about trespassing and harassment, most coming during this past week’s heat wave.

Deputies were sent out each time, and determined Buddy had shade, plenty of water and food, and the dog was healthy and well-fed.

On Thursday night, deputies responded again on an extra patrol due to reports of an “abandoned and neglected dog” at the Hope farm address. Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz and Animal Control Officer Mark Case also went to the farm, and along with the deputy, checked the situation and determined the dog was healthy, had plenty of water and food and was not malnourished.

There also was an additional lead Saturday on the incident in April in which Buddy was actually stolen from the farm and then turned in to the Bartholomew County Humane Society as a stray, an incident that was captured on security camera at the farm.

The sheriff’s department took a report on April 19 from the dog owners that the dog had been stolen at 6:46 p.m. that day, Sheriff Matt Myers said. A camera system at the farm recorded an older white female coming on to the farm property, which is labeled with a sign as private property, taking the dog and leaving.

The woman was driving a four-door white passenger car with Florida license plates and the theft was recorded on camera footage, Myers said.

The owners said the theft occurred after multiple complaints on social media by unknown individuals about the dog being a “farm dog” and sleeping outside. The owners said they suspect someone in the group or affiliated with someone in the group stole Buddy, but Myers cautioned that there is no proof or verification of that at this time.

Bartholomew County Animal Control, all the area humane societies and law enforcement were notified about the dog theft, and the next day, Buddy was dropped off at the Bartholomew County Humane Society by a woman who is believed to have provided fictitious information as far as a name, saying she was from Denver, Colorado.

Humane Society staff said the woman was acting odd in her actions in dropping off the dog. They notified investigators about the recovery of Buddy, who was returned to his owners.

At 10:29 a.m. Saturday, deputies were sent to the 1400 block of South County Road 1100E near Hartsville after homeowners here said a woman of the same description, older female in a white vehicle, went on to their property earlier this week and appeared to be looking at their dog, which was chained to a tree in their yard.

The woman, who did not identify herself, began asking questions about the dog, how long the family had the dog, how long it was outside and how long it had been on the chain. The woman eventually left.

However, when the family saw the story in Saturday’s Republic, they reported the incident as they were concerned the woman would return to attempt to steal their dog out of the yard.

The homeowners were shown surveillance footage from Buddy’s owners and said the woman looked similar and the car looked similar.

Myers said that investigation into the identity of the woman is continuing and tips from the public are leading them toward her identity.

Buddy’s owners had requested additional patrols beginning June 13 in the area due to the number of drive-bys and harassment from individuals, including attempts to videotape Buddy on the property.

There were threats that someone would take the dog “again,” on social media, investigators said.

Sheriff department records show that on June 14, deputies were sent to the address about a lady in the roadway with an Edinburgh address who told investigators she was “checking” on the dog. Since she had not gone on the property, deputies did not detain her.

When repeated calls began coming in on June 15, Myers told deputies to refer them to animal control, who again went out to check on the welfare of the dog and reported the dog was well-fed, had plenty of water, was in the shade and was fine. If animal control asked for law enforcement assistance, a deputy would be sent, he said.

In 11 calls for assistance to check on the dog over those days, each time the dog was found to be in good health, with water and food, Myers said.

Earlier that afternoon, Sandra Bush of Columbus went to The Republic offices and told a reporter she was trying to advocate for Buddy and had been contacting local officials throughout the week, including Case. She was distressed and feared that the dog might die without intervention.

“We’ve got to be better people than this,” she said.

Bush said that when Case told her there were other, similar situations, she asked for information about those dogs as well, which he declined to give. She also stated that she had told Case that she would willingly pay for the Burton’s dog as long as he was never allowed to own another.

Myers emphasized that animal control was checking on dogs throughout the county during the heat wave and said he believes owners have a responsibility to take care of their pets and take precautions. However, county officials, animal control and deputies found no issues with Buddy or his living conditions.

“This is not a sheriff department issue until it becomes a criminal issue,” Myers said of the continuing complaints about the dog. “But I want to be clear, if people are going on private property and taking dogs, it is a criminal issue and we will build a case and turn it over to the prosecutor’s office. You cannot go on private property and take other people’s dogs. Call animal control — there is a process and you need to go through the process. Do not take the law into your own hands.”

On Saturday, Myers expressed frustration that individuals working from information on social media from the animal advocacy group were causing so much time from deputies to be spent on false dog neglect allegations, when they have emergencies that they need to be addressing throughout the county.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “It could turn into a public safety issue. If someone is having a medical issue or an emergency and we don’t have anyone to send because of these false allegations from social media, about a dog, it could become a serious issue.”

“I love animals,” Myers said. “My deputies love animals. But we are not going to tolerate trespassing, harassment, people going on private property without permission to ask questions about dogs or theft of dogs. The procedure if you have an issue with an animal’s condition or treatment is to call Bartholomew County Animal Control.”