Willow the dog

Healed dog ‘Willow’ attends hearing for attacker sentenced under new Ohio law targeting animal abuse

A 24-year-old man convicted of causing serious harm to a companion animal was sentenced to a year in prison on Friday as caretakers and the dog he abused attended his sentencing in Greene County Court.

Matthew David Bolen was the first to be tried in Greene County under Goddard’s Law, which increases the severity of abusing a companion animal from a misdemeanor to a felony. Offenses that would qualify under the law include not feeding or providing water for an animal and causing long-term pain.

In addition to the year in prison, Bolen was ordered not to have contact with companion animals.

“They’re out of your life,” Judge Stephen Wolaver said to Bolen during his sentencing.

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The law, which went into effect in Ohio in September 2016, provides a judge more sentencing options to include banning pet ownership for life.

Bolen was arrested in Xenia in August 2017 after he was seen hurting a puppy named Willow. After initially pleading not guilty, Bolen changed his plea to guilty as part of a plea agreement in January 2018. Willow suffered a broken hip and other injuries but has since recovered.

Bolen apologized during his sentencing and asked for mercy for his opiate addiction.

“I just apologize for the crime itself and just wasting your guys’ time,” Bolen said.

“I’m tired of getting high and tired of wasting my life and just causing chaos everywhere I go.”

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His sentencing date had been pushed back three times after he missed the initial final disposition hearing in April and then violated conditions of his bond.

Supporters of a puppy named Willow who was abused brought the dog to a sentencing hearing on Friday, July 27, 2018, for the man convicted of that abuse. Matthew David Bolen was sentenced to a year in prison. CHUCK HAMLIN / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

News of Bolen’s case spread as Leah Lind, who adopted Willow, took to social media to gather support for the puppy’s care and to raise awareness for Goddard’s Law. Lind’s supporters gathered outside the courthouse to demonstrate.

Bolen’s attorney, Gardner Combs, said in court that his client is suffering from a serious opioid addiction and he was “certainly under the influence” when he hurt the puppy.

“This dog has had a lot of support and deservingly so. People are here today for this dog, lots of people. But we’re talking about a human being here too. Mr. Bolen has been fighting an opioid addiction for a long time,” Combs said. “He didn’t cooperate with the courts in the pre-sentence investigation, and it wasn’t because he had some crazy motive, it’s because he’s an addict. He has a serious opioid addiction. We see it on the news every day, and he’s an example of that.”

For Leah Lind, who works as a victim’s advocate and kept pressure on law enforcement for months to find and arrest Bolen after he failed to meet bond conditions, his sentencing provided some relief. Lind expressed satisfaction that he got the maximum one-year prison term for a fifth-degree felony.

“This is a great feat, most felony 5 offenders do not see a prison term at all, especially the max,” Lind posted on Facebook after the hearing. “Justice for Willow has finally happened.”

Willow has grown to be a playful young dog and has recovered from her injuries, but she has a noticeable hitch in her gate when running.

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