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County executive cancels fundraiser for Heaven Can Wait

By jim Published: December 17, 2009

Rick Armon, Beacon Journal staff writer

Summit County Executive Russ Pry has canceled a fundraiser for an animal-rescue group whose founders have been charged with animal cruelty.

Pry had planned to raise money Dec. 29 for Heaven Can Wait through his monthly Change for Change fundraiser.

He canceled the event Wednesday after other animal-rescue groups complained and amid the threats of pickets.

The fundraiser had been scheduled before the criminal charges were filed.

Pry said he didn't want the Change for Change program, which has raised about $35,000 over the past few years for local charities, tarnished through negative publicity.

''I want it to continue to be a good thing,'' Pry said.

The complaints were made this week after the county announced the charity that would benefit this month.

Animal-rights groups referred questions about the complaints to Karen Conklin, chairwoman of the Summit County Animal Coalition and head of the Humane Society of Greater Akron. She declined to comment.

Heaven Can Wait founders Heather Nagel and her mother, Patricia Mihaly, were charged with 15 counts of animal cruelty in July after authorities removed more than 100 dogs and cats from a home the group uses on Vesper Street in Akron.

The women have pleaded not guilty. The case is pending in Akron Municipal Court.

Nagel and Mihaly could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Warner Mendenhall, who represents Heaven Can Wait, said he was unaware of the fundraiser, but called it a generous effort to help.

''It's too bad it was canceled,'' he said. He added that the animal-rescue groups that lodged complaints probably don't understand the animal-cruelty case.

Pry said he called Heaven Can Wait to explain why the event was canceled.

''They understood,'' he said. ''They didn't want to see the Change for Change program tarnished, either.''

The fundraiser is held each month at Rockne's on Merriman Road in Akron. All tips are given to the charity identified for that month.

Past events have raised money for such groups as Hospice of Visiting Nurse Services, Mobile Meals and the Salvation Army. Charities contact the county and ask to participate.

Officials said they schedule the events and beneficiaries more than six months in advance.

The fundraiser will return next month.

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