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Buckeye Lake man gets probation in animal cruelty case

NEWARK — A Buckeye Lake man was sentenced to five years probation and barred from having pets after pleading guilty Wednesday to multiple counts of endangering children and cruelty to companion animals.

Howard McNemar, 49, said little during a morning hearing before Licking County Common Pleas Judge David Branstool.

He and his girlfriend, Toni Lichwa, 39, were arrested in late August after officers removed a 4-year-old child and dozens of animals from their Walnut Road mobile home. They were charged with two counts of child endangerment and 10 counts of animal cruelty. Lichwa faces an additional count of falsification for lying to investigators.

Humane Society officials called to the couple's home said it was among the worst they had experienced — workers had to don protective gear to enter the premises, exiting after "less than a minute" and appearing "ready to vomit due to the strong odor," according to documents.

More than 60 animals, including 40-plus cats, were found in the home, significantly underweight and suffering from serious flea infestations, among other issues, according to documents. Dead pets also were found.

The couple’s daughter, now 5, was found covered in fleas and flea bites and animal feces. She was removed by Children’s Services.

Prosecutors had sought prison time for McNemar, noting the "horrible conditions" of the home and treatment of the child and animals.

But Kevin Gall, representing McNemar, urged community control, saying the animals involved were adopted by Lichwa’s mother, who left them with the couple after moving out of the area.

Branstool opted for probation, telling McNemar, "No pets."

In January, Lichwa was determined competent to understand the charges and court proceedings. A change of plea and sentencing hearing before Branstool is scheduled for early April.

The felony counts of prohibition against companion animals were allowed under a new state law providing heightened penalties for those who "knowingly cause serious physical harm" to pets. Under an earlier law, such abuse was considered a misdemeanor on the first offense.

mkovac@dispatch.com

@OhioCapitalBlog

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