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Killing, torturing pets is grim hallmark of domestic abuse amid pandemic

In two local cases, men were accused of beating their girlfriends and killing pets, which domestic abuse experts say is another form of control.

A Grand Rapids man has been sentenced to prison for killing a kitten during a violent June outburst, while a Kentwood man is in jail, accused in the December death of a puppy thrown against a wall.

But animals weren’t the only casualties. In both cases, girlfriends also were attacked. 

It is a disturbing component of domestic assault cases in which beloved pets are targeted, local officials say.

“In an argument, threatening to harm the dog or cat becomes a tool,’’ said Tara Aday, who works at a Grand Rapids domestic abuse shelter. “They know when they make that threat, it almost paralyses the victim.’’

And it happens more than people realize, said Aday, director of prevention and education at Safe Haven Ministries.

“I don’t know if there’s a lot of public awareness around how often or how frequently animals are harmed in abusive relationships,’’ she said.

Two recent cases of domestic violence in Kent County also spurred felony charges of animals – killing/torturing.

Joshua Morgan was sent to prison for assaulting his girlfriend and killing a kitten. The kitten was targeted “with the intent to cause mental suffering or distress or to exert control,’’ court records show. A second cat was also attacked.

It happened in June at an apartment on Michigan Street NE. “One cat was dead and one injured when officers arrived,’’ Grand Rapids Police Sgt. John Wittkowski said. “He apparently threw them down on the ground, which caused their injuries.’’

The woman had noticeable injuries and an apparent concussion, Wittkowski said. Morgan fled the state and was arrested in Kansas.

“The gravity of these crimes basically pounds on the table,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge J. Joseph Rossi told Morgan before sending him to prison for 3-15 years.

“The shame I feel every day is like a spear right through my soul,’’ Morgan, 46, said at his sentencing last month. “I never thought that I would be capable of doing something so heinous.’’

In the Kentwood case, 24-year-old Brandon James Price is accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend and throwing a puppy against a wall, causing a spinal injury.  That incident occurred Dec. 18 on Heyboer Avenue SE.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Price grabbed the woman by the throat, pulled her hair and slapped her. He stabbed at her stomach with a colored pencil, court records show. 

“Price also threw their puppy against a wall, causing spinal injury,’’ according to the probable cause affidavit. “It was advised that the dog would have to be euthanized due to its injuries.’’

Price was charged with domestic violence and animals – killing/torturing. He’s being held on a $20,000 bond.

A national survey indicates that 85% of domestic violence shelters reported that women coming to their facilities told of incidents of pet abuse, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

“Once again, that goes to control,’’ Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said. “A perpetrator is trying to exercise control over that individual and going after something the victim loves, something the victim cares for.’’

Aday says victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to report what happened for fear their pet will be harmed as a result.

“And now they’re going to do anything they can to keep the pet safe,’’ she said. “And there you go. So now the abuser has that power and control.’’

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