Two Burger Avenue residents at the center of what humane agents have called “one of the worst” animal cruelty incidents they have ever seen deny all allegations against them.
Michael Olar and Renee Booher, who were arrested Saturday after more than 80 animals were found on their property at 1024 Burger Ave., were accused by law enforcement and the Humane Society of Richland County of keeping the animals in deplorable conditions. There also were four children in the home.
But Olar said Wednesday that he was trying to rescue dogs that had been part of Richland County puppy mill operations, mainly ones owned by Amish and Mennonite residents.
“They have their side of the story, but we stand by every decision we made,” Linda Chambers, executive director of Humane Society of Richland County, said Thursday.
Olar and Booher of shared their side of events Wednesday with numerous media outlets, including the News Journal.
“I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an animal hoarder. I rescued these dogs,” Olar said. “I just want my name cleared. I don’t want people to think I’m a piece of crap. I ran a business and want to start another business back up, but they’ve ruined my name.” He previously owned Olar Exotics pet shop with his brother, he said.
Olar acknowledged signing an agreement to surrender 76 of the 82 animals to the humane society in exchange for not being charged with animal cruelty. The other animals, including a marmoset and a kinkajou, have been returned to the couple.
They usually have 20 to 25 dogs on the property, including 10 hunting dogs, two squirrel dogs, two coons dogs, a bird dog and 12 dachshunds, Olar said. The rest of the dogs officials found on the property Saturday were supposed to go to rescue operations in mid-May.
Olar says he conveys former puppy mill dogs to rescuers
Periodically, some puppy mill owners in Richland County contact him to come and pick up dogs they can no longer breed because the mother dogs are 5 years old or have had eight litters, adhering to regulations under the United States Department of Agriculture, Olar said.
Olar goes to the Mount Hope auction in Holmes County to hand the dogs over to rescuers, he said, adding he doesn’t get paid for his efforts.
“I’ve gone there three times a year for more than 20-plus years,” Olar said.
The couple said their nightmare began Friday, May 19, at a Mount Hope auction.
Olar had picked up dogs a day earlier. They were supposed to meet an animal rescuer at the auction to hand over the dogs, Olar said. As they arrived, an animal activist named Kimberly Goddard got inside his horse trailer.
“I was backing in. I’ve never seen the lady. She seen my trailer, seen it was all full of dogs and immediately started recording and put me on the internet, downgrading me, which caused me to have to leave the sale. It’s her fault. I would’ve found every one of those dogs a home. I have for 20-plus years,” Olar said. “You can ask anybody at Mount Hope, all the owners that own the place. I find them homes. … I come home with usually no dogs all.”
A rescuer who has worked with Olar in the past said he provides proper care for the dogs, and is trusted by puppy mill owners in the Amish and Mennonite community to rescue the animals. She asked that her name not be used.
Holmes County Dog Warden Jonathan Beam said he responded to Goddard’s complaint May 19 at the Mount Hope swap meet.
“There was nothing out there concerning and there were no violations of Ohio law that I witnessed,” said Beam, who is also the appointed humane agent for the county. “The dogs I saw were healthy.”
Animal activist visited swap meet for first time
Kimberly Goddard, who has been an animal activist for 10 years, said she was investigating the Mount Hope swap meet while visiting Ohio.
It was her first time at the event.
“I am trying to educate everybody about the cruelty of puppy mills,” she said. “It’s puppy brokers, it’s the pet shops. They are all involved in making money off man’s best friends. … We domesticated them and we are not protecting them. We need to do away with commercial breeding practices. We need to stop the insanity. Rescues are bursting at the seams.”
She said people need to stop buying from pet shops and online sites.
She said laws need to be updated and changed, regarding the federal Animal Welfare Act, the laws that the USDA must uphold.
Because of activist, Olar brought dogs back home
Because of the activist, Olar left the auction and brought the dogs back to his home in Madison Township, he said. The animal rescuer he’d planned to meet at Mount Hope arranged to pick up the dogs after the Memorial Day weekend.
But on Saturday, a Richland County Sheriff’s Office deputy heard dogs barking and investigated the property, then contacted the Humane Society of Richland County when he saw the large number of dogs there. The humane agents and others removed the dogs and other pets and said they were pursuing felony charges against Olar and Booher.
The two were arrested on misdemeanor charges of endangering children, possession of drugs-marijuana and possession of drug abuse instruments, according to the sheriff’s report. The report listed the ages of the children in the home as 2, 5, 13 and 15. A deputy said when he knocked on the door, the door swung open and he saw multiple dogs in cages with feces and urine on the floor.
As for the syringes a deputy noted in a report, Olar said they were used for feeding the puppies who could not nurse and for feeding the two exotic pets. Some of the instruments were used for medications and vaccinations for the pets.
Children Services placed kids in couple’s home
Olar said Richland County Children Services caseworkers placed the children in their home. One was a grandchild and the others were related to Booher’s children, who are in jail. A caseworker came as recently as May 16, both said. The couple refute that their house was in deplorable condition.
“The people (RCCS) have been here maybe 10 times and we have never had a problem,” he said.
Wednesday, Children Services spokeswoman Brigitte Coles said, “We cannot comment on the children or their situation to protect their confidentiality.”
Three children who were removed from the home have been in their care for about six months and Booher said she was in the process of attempting to get custody of them.
Couple not charged with animal cruelty
Neither Olar nor Booher have been charged with animal cruelty. They displayed a contract they signed to surrender the dogs they had rescued to the humane society, along with their hunting dogs. Four family dogs they kept inside the house and the exotics pets were returned to them earlier this week. Booher, 43, said the humane society refused to give her back her English bulldog, who is pregnant and an inside dog.
Chambers explained the decision not to pursue animal cruelty charges in a Facebook post.
“We have assessed this situation very carefully with one goal in mind: To do what’s in the best interest of these dogs. It is our heartfelt feeling that the absolute best thing we can do right now is get these dogs spayed/neutered/healthy and adopted. Right now, that is the goal,” she wrote. “That means we have made the decisions necessary to make that happen. We have no interest in holding these dogs in ‘shelter purgatory’ as evidence in a court case that may or may not yield the results we want. That could take months, or worse, years. That would only punish the dogs we are so committed to helping.”
As part of the agreement with the humane society, Olar agreed to periodic home visits from agents. Chambers said humane agents want to hold people to their words.
“We have assessed the entire situation in realistic, unbiased and (most importantly) fair way, and feel comfortable in the direction we are headed,” Chambers posted on the humane society’s Facebook page.
Mansfield First Assistant Law Director Mike Kemerer backed Chambers.
“Her goal, and my goal, is the well-being of these dogs, first and foremost,” he said.
Chambers said Olar was “extremely cooperative and remorseful over the situation.”
Olar, who welcomed the News Journal in his house, said he wants the public to know he is not a bad person. He said the rescued dogs were to be taken out-of-state and probably would have lived in affluent homes for the rest of their lives, after being spayed or neutered.
“I’ve taken puppies with crippled back legs and the rescue finds them homes, makes them wheelchairs so the puppies can still walk again and yet I’m a bad person,” he said.
Humane society director: Donations will be put to good use
Olar pointed out the humane society has received more than $25,000 in donations since making public plea for help on social media and through the news outlets.
Chambers noted the humane society does not get spaying and neutering services for free, adding procedures for each animal can be $100 to $200. The dogs also will be tested for heartworm and receive rabies and parvo vaccinations.
As for any extra money coming into the nonprofit organization, she said, “It means we don’t have to sweat the bills for one more month.”
She said several dogs went into foster care on Wednesday.
“We are well on our way in the right direction,” Chambers said.
Olar said his reputation is tarnished for life
Olar said he never got to tell Chambers his side of the story. He was placed in a cruiser immediately.
“I’ve tried to tell her (Chambers) my story several times but she would not listen,” she said. “This week she said it doesn’t matter about my past. It was about how many dogs were on the property.”
Olar said now at least 200 dogs will be euthanized each year because “there’s no one who will believe my side of the story. They’ve put me out to be a monster.”