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In the Matter of: M. O.

September 14, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF: M. O.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harsha, P.J.

Cite as In re M.O.,

DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

{¶1} Mother appeals the decision that removed her daughter from the temporary custody of the Washington County Juvenile Center and granted temporary custody to the Father. She contends that the court abused its discretion because granting temporary custody to the Father was not in M.O.'s best interests.

{¶2} The court found M.O., who had been living at Mother's home, delinquent for habitual truancy and sent her to the Juvenile Center. Later, counselors at the Juvenile Center felt that she was not benefiting from the experience and recommended she leave the Center. After a hearing, the court agreed, removed M.O. from the Juvenile Center, and granted temporary custody to Father. Mother argues that the court should have returned custody to her.

{¶3} When M.O. attended school, children teased her about her body odor, which was attributable to the pervasive smell of cat urine in Mother's home. This teasing and embarrassment apparently led to the truancy problems. Mother argues that she took steps to remedy the cat urine problem at her home by removing cats from the residence, painting, and cleaning. However, a probation officer who visited Mother's home the day before the hearing reported that the odor of cat urine remained "horrendous." Moreover, Father testified that he had a suitable home, did not have a history of Children's Services investigations, and was raising two stepchildren without truancy issues. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by deciding that it was in M.O.'s best interests to grant Father temporary custody.

I. Summary of the Facts

{¶4} The state alleged that M.O. was a delinquent child for habitual truancy, having been absent from school 62 cumulative days from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Days later, the juvenile court issued an order committing her to the temporary custody of the Washington County Juvenile Center.

{¶5} After an adjudicatory hearing, the court issued an order finding M.O. delinquent for habitual truancy. The court then ordered M.O. to remain in the temporary custody of the Washington County Juvenile Center and to participate in its rehabilitation programs. However, the state subsequently filed a motion asking the court to reconsider M.O.'s placement at the Washington County Juvenile Center. The state attached the statements of several of M.O's Juvenile Center counselors who felt that M.O. was not benefiting from being at the Juvenile Center and participating in its counseling and rehabilitation programs.

{¶6} At a hearing on the state's motion, all parties agreed that the court should remove M.O. from the Juvenile Center. The central issue therefore was whether the court should grant Mother or Father temporary custody. The court made its decision based upon the testimony of Mother, Father, and M.O.'s probation officer.

{¶7} Mother admitted that her home had an odor issue, which was the result of nine male cats living inside. And she acknowledged that classmates of M.O. were teasing her because of the odor and that M.O. acted "withdrawn." Mother removed about half of the cats from the home in response. However, M.O.'s truancy issues persisted.

{¶8} After the court placed M.O. in the Juvenile Center, Mother removed the remainder of male cats, but kept a female cat and three dogs. Mother testified that she and M.O.'s younger sister cleaned and painted the house, which she claimed resolved the odor issue.

{¶9} Father testified that he lived with his new wife and her two children, neither of whom had truancy issues. Children's Services had not investigated his home or stepchildren. And there were no issues of substance abuse or violence in the home. Father testified that he had spent time with M.O. at the Juvenile Center during counseling sessions.

{¶10} The Washington County juvenile probation officer assigned to M.O.'s truancy case testified about the date when she transported M.O. to the Juvenile Center. She and other law enforcement could smell the stench of cat urine from outside the home. The probation officer described the odor on M.O.'s body and clothing as "horrific." They drove M.O. to the Juvenile Center with the windows down.

{ΒΆ11} The probation officer also visited Mother's home the day prior to the hearing. Although the home had newly painted walls, she could still smell the odor of cat urine from outside the home. While inside, the odor was still so intense that she felt a burning sensation in the back of her throat. ...


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