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Metzler enters Alford plea in hoarding case

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The mother and daughter accused of animal hoarding were in court Monday, with one case resolved by an Alford plea and the other continued.

Paula Metzler, 55, of 100 Fair Ave., Quaker City, entered an Alford plea to five fifth-degree felony counts of cruelty to companion animals. An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt. It is given when a defendant recognizes there is sufficient evidence for a jury to find guilt.

Belmont County Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan said Paula Metzler could face up to five years in prison. Her sentencing hearing was set for March 11.

Flanagan said he could not provide further comment until the sentencing of Paula Metzler and the trial of the co-defendant, her daughter Kristi Metzler, occurs.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on this matter as it is the same case that we have indicted against Ms. Metzler’s daughter. To share the facts that we relied upon for an indictment in this case at this time would be sharing facts in the co-defendant’s case and that simply would not be fair to the defendants or the process,” Flanagan wrote in a news release.

Kristi Metzler, 30, of the same address, was also in court, and Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Chris Berhalter granted her request for a competency examination.

Flanagan noted all proceedings will be stayed until the court receives a competency evaluation. He added that a competency evaluation serves to make sure that a defendant understands the nature of the proceedings.

Charges stem from last year, when multiple dead animals were reportedly found in the Metzler residence and 12 living animals were taken from the site by the Belmont County Hoof & Paw humane agency.

The Metzlers each originally were charged with 11 fifth-degree felony charges of cruelty to companion animals. They were charged in accordance with Goddard’s Law, passed in Ohio in 2016, that makes it a felony of the fifth degree to cause serious physical harm to a companion animal.

Julie Larish, humane agent for Belmont County Hoof & Paw, was reached for comment.

“The animals are doing very, very well. There’s not a problem with the animals whatsoever. All healthy, all happy, all getting socialized, getting training,” she said.

Metzler said more instances of felony-level charges in such cases could serve as a warning to other hoarders.

“I’m hoping we’re collecting enough evidence on every case that we do that. That shows we’re very serious about the hoarding situations and about animal abuse, and it’s total overall concern, that people understand we are not going to prosecute unless we know we have enough evidence to move forward. So we are hoping this is going to deter people from the hoarding situations. This is also going to have more people involved in helping family members not hoard, because it does often stem from a family issue, and we’re hoping we can get some of the hoarding in the (Ohio) valley under control as we go.”

Larish said she looks forward to finding homes for the confiscated animals — two poodles, Chihuahuas, a German shepherd and a Bernese mountain dog.

“When the case is completely over, all animals will be placed in a home,” she said. “We’re just hoping for the best at this point in time. As far as Paula is concerned, she will not have the animals back. I’m hoping they are going to give her a sentence of a lifetime without animals when she does get out of prison.”

For anyone wishing to make a donation, Hoof & Paw can be reached at 610-314-5203 or through BCHP Inc. on Facebook.

“We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had a lot of response to our hoarding cases lately,” she said, adding there is another hoarding case out of Piedmont where 31 dogs and five cats were removed from a home. That case will be in court this week.

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