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Pepe Lepew On February - 18 - 2010

This is a very troubling story that will not leave you happy. I have to warn you, it is a little heartbreaking. It left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.

A few weeks ago in Montana, there was a horrible story about an abused kitten named Mercy. Someone had kicked him, stomped him in the head, and tried to drown him. He had apparently abused this kitten for hours. He was taken to a vet with numerous broken bones. He was then sent to an animal hospital in Spokane where they were forced to put him to sleep because his spine was fractured in several places.

Very sad story.

Wait, it gets sadder.

When a newspaper ran a front-page story on the incident, it predictably created a firestorm of a reaction. There were dozens of posts on that newspapers’ Web site saying the guy should be strung up, etc. Several people demanded to know where the person lived because they wanted to beat the hell out of him.

The guy was not arrested immediately. He apparently told the police he was suffering from clinical depression, but then he also claimed someone else beat and tortured the kitten. The police didn’t arrest him immediately. For two or three days, people apparently showed up at this guy’s door. He apparently received a number of threatening calls. After the kitten died, the police showed up at his door with an arrest warrant for cruelty to animals. With the police standing at the front door, he shot himself.

I hope the whole incident left some of those people posting threats on the Internet thinking long and hard about their actions. The incident has sparked a wide range of reactions. Some people are still saying, “Good. I’m glad he offed himself.” While others say, “people care more about animals than people.” Still others say people care more about kittens than aborted babies.

I have torn feelings about the whole thing. Honestly, I feel more sympathy for the kitten than I do the abuser, I guess because of its pure innocence, but I’m not without any sympathy for the abuser. This was not simply just a jerk. He was a victim in his own way. He was obviously a deeply troubled and ill person who badly needed help and didn‘t get it. He got threats. He didn’t deserve death. He deserved a couple of years in prison — and therapy and treatment.

I think a number of people blew it here. The cops blew it by not taking the guy in for observation when the abuse first happened. He told them he was seriously depressed. The people posting comments online threatening him were blowing it. Their anger was understandable, anyone reading the story felt it, but the online rhetoric got completely out of control. It turned into a weird kind of online mob rule. I have no doubt the abuser was reading those comments and threats.

And frankly, in my opinion, while I think the newspaper was correct to cover the incident the way it did — like I said it predictably got a big reaction from the community and even across the country — I think the paper did blow it by allowing those threatening comments to be posted on its Web site.

There is one hint of silver lining that came out of this. Because so many people felt so badly about Mercy, the local animal shelter received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from across the country. And at a local “cat day” at the Humane Society, the shelter was swarmed by people adopting cats and kittens because they were touched by the Mercy story.

There was some silver lining. When the story of Mercy first came I out, I posted something on Facebook saying everyone should give their dogs and cats a big hug. I did that day.

38 Responses so far.

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  1. choicelady says:

    Why do we care so little for kids that we don’t intervene when it might have helped? I feel so sad for the little kitty -- my various cats have all been rescues, and all have been well worth it. But how horrid for the abuser to be who he was, too! What wiring snapped either at birth or because of some awful thing? I realize that not all abused people turn that abuse on others, but we do know that upwards of 80% of people in prison for violent crimes were themselves victims as children.

    Years ago I had a kid in my daycamp group (I was the counselor) who, now, I think we’d call a sociopath. His home life was horrid -- he was a foster kid, Black, forced to be Jewish when he wasn’t and did not care to be -- raised by a mean, probably physically vicious foster “mother”. In those days we did nothing about such abuse. I have long wondered where he wound up. My heart just broke for him, but he scared me, too -- he’d do mean things to other kids with an empty, glazed look in his eyes.

    I think he just wanted to stop his own pain. I bet that was the case here as well. Why do we turn our backs on kids crying out for help? It mystifies me. We did not know anything about such things then (40 years ago) but even now we have kids hurt and dying in “care” -- and do nothing.

    As for the finger pointing haters who post things online about perps they don’t know -- they are not all that different are they? I’d not want to get around them either. The need we have to point fingers and find fault is scary. It’s like the people who have no personal involvement in a crime who want to draw and quarter the perpetrator even before trial. And since we’ve released nearly 200 people from Death Row since the early 1980s, it’s clear our salivating desires for vengance don’t breed justice. So yeah -- this is a deeply troubling story on many fronts. Mercy the Kitty, the abuser, the abuser’s abusers. So much rage, so little kindness.

    • Khirad says:

      Exactly. The viciousness of those pointing the fingers is tragically ironic. One of my best friends in High School was passed from foster house to foster house. They were deeply troubled. And the tales they told… Also interesting is the stats (overlapping I imagine) of mental illness and conduct disorders in prison. There are bad people who need to be locked up. And even treatment alone can’t help many of them. We can’t always combine the two. Many have these issue and don’t commit crimes. Nevertheless, the stats speak for themselves and perhaps we might try to solve social problems based on science and dispassionate justice rather than vengeance and keeping the prison industry going?

  2. PatsyT says:

    Pepe, this was tough to read.

    We have three dogs, two Setters and one from a rescue.
    A Basset puppy that had been tided up and left in a backyard without food or water.
    He was just skin and bones… Who could do that ?
    A year and a half later…..
    He is a very healthy and happy Big Baby Lap Doggy and he thinks he is one of the Setters.
    He stalks just like they do, It’s hilarious seeing a fat Basset stalking like a Setter.

    We see all the problems that people are going through
    and I think we can multiply it by 100 for the animals.

  3. SeeknDestroy says:

    My personal feelings on this matter are tied up in the fact that most people do not change their behavior, ever.

    Are there exceptions? Sure.
    My guess is that like most abusers, they were abused themselves.
    I hope these folks realize their problems and get help.

    Having grown up with both dogs and cats, and loving both, I immediately lose respect for(and usually hate) anyone who abuses their pets.I love my cat Mungus very, very much. And I have a special bond with him as I got him when my sister passed away, so I am doubly protective of him.

  4. msbadger says:

    Dear Pepe: Thank you for this truly tragic but very well written and important post. I am a very strong advocate of protecting animals and children. I was a seriously abused child myself. I feel horrible about the cat, and I have some bit of empathy for the abuser. The people I am really upset with are the same ones I see posting comments throughout the internet, regardless of the story. They are haters, who love to hide behind their anonymity to express all kinds of racist, hateful, and truly evil attitudes. I really worry about those people, because I feel that in their own way they are as violent and lacking in humanity as the abuser. I’m not sad that the man shot himself, because there obviously was going to be no help for him. I truly understand why he did that. I cried for the kitty, and gave my kitty boy a big snuggle. There’s a fine line between anger and rage, and between righteous and self-righteous anger and rage. We are NOT a healthy society. Like you said, we do not give help to those among us who direly need it. We are seriously priority challenged, and looking at the way the Repubs and T-B’ers act, there are a lot of selfish haters out there. Once again, I commend you for posting this and for the great level of writing! You really rock, my friend.

  5. Kalima says:

    The abuse of animals or children is unforgivable. The fact that the man shot himself after receiving threats shows that he knew he had done something awful and was nothing more than most abusers, just a coward. My sympathy is not with the abuser but with the small, frightened animal who wouldn’t have understood why this was happening to him. I have no mercy for any type of abuse, my heart is cold on this issue and I need to put it out of my mind to continue my day.

    RIP little Mercy.

    • KQuark says:

      My gut feeling about this guy was that he was a coward as well. He could have came clean but he didn’t. He took the cowards way out too.

      • Kalima says:

        Not every abuser is mentally unstable, they chose to abuse something or someone weaker, some people are just born to be cruel.

        I have rescued countless cats with injuries that could only have been by human abuse such as an arrow through the head, front and back leg bound with duct tape, barbed wire around the neck, eyes stuck shut with glue and one stomped on so badly, it crushed his spine and pelvis. I saved all but 2 and am now happy that after years of fighting for animal right, Japan passed a law that poses a fine of

      • bitohistory says:

        KQ, I do see your point, but you seem to think he was thinking rationally. To take one’s own life (excepting pain with a terminal illness) is not rational.

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    This story-- and the way you wrote about it, Pepe brings up so many interesting issues! Aside from the basic story of an unstable human abusing an animal, you point out the reactions of those who read the story and the implications beyond the story. Good Job!

    Someday, I hope I can write about animal rights, and about the feeling many of us have that animals are more sympathetic than humans-- I am one of those people, but it somehow troubles me. A long time ago, I heard a radio host ask: If you saw a person drowning and a dog drowning at the same time, which would you try to save?

    Most people said the dog. That’s troubling AND understandable to me.

    • boomer1949 says:

      Humans aren’t supposed to be helpless, plus more often than not, humans have way too many strings attached. Many can’t spell thank you, much less say it and mean it.

      A four legged critter is helpless, often frightened, and has no strings. They appreciate food, water, and having a warm cozy place to sleep. These creatures don’t demand or expect it; humans are an entirely different animal.

      A Columbus firefighter admits that he took his two dogs to the basement, tied them up and blasted them with a rifle so he and a girlfriend could vacation without paying to board the animals.

      Fireman kills pets to save on boarding

      • PepeLepew says:

        Ewww. That’s an awful story.

        • boomer1949 says:

          Yes it is and ultimately, the man lost his job, was required to compensate the County Animal Shelter from where he adopted both dogs, and sentenced to community service for local animal outreach organizations.

          **note** Community anger, resentment, and criticism were what cost this man his job. Residents who were served by his CFD unit did not want this person called to a home in the middle of the night. Why? Because none believed Mr. Firefighter would save a child and/or a pet.

          • PepeLepew says:

            That makes me angry that he didn’t get prison time.

            • boomer1949 says:


              In addition to the things I mentioned before, he did get jail time…

              Santuomo was sentenced to 90 days in jail, to be served in 10-day increments over the next two years. He also has to pay $4,500 in restitution, perform 200 hours of community service, stay away from companion animals for five years and write a letter of apology to be published in the local newspaper and the International Association of Firefighters magazine, the humane society’s Miller said.

            • HITO says:

              Hi Boomer.

              Good to see you too!

              I enjoyed the postscript to the fireman’s report. He’ll have to think about what he did for two years.

  7. bitohistory says:

    Hmmm, being clinically depressed and doing something irrational. Go figure, who da thunk?

  8. escribacat says:

    I do not respond very rationally to stories like this. My first reaction when I read that he shot himself was “Good!” I just can’t help it.

  9. AdLib says:

    This is reflective of how the need to categorize people in the most simplistic and binary terms of “good” and “bad” is corrosive to our society.

    Certainly, any well adjusted person would and should be outraged at someone torturing a small defenseless and trusting animal so cruelly.

    However, instead of stampeding to hatred, one could at least try to consider the whole picture.

    Only someone mentally ill could act in such a way, it goes against our nature as human beings. The man was mentally ill, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently.

    The question then arises, what is the proper response by a society towards those who are mentally ill and act in harmful ways because of it? Should not the same people who recognize the injustice of an innocent animal being so savagely attacked recognize the injustice of the death of a human as being the appropriate sentence for that crime?

    As horrible as this was, is it worthy of, in essence, capital punishment?

    I completely understand the passions in such a situation and how natural it is to feel a kind of “good riddance” to this person but does that compliment us as human beings or as a society? To approve the death of any mentally ill people who harm animals? If that was a law, I think many of these same people would see the inequity.

    There are a lot of mentally ill people out there. Some can be helped, some can’t. I think that the man who flew his plane into the IRS building was one of those who could have been helped, I don’t know enough about this person to say.

    Mental illness is vastly under-treated in this nation and the results of it are evident in the continuing hostile and anti-social acts of emotionally desperate and deranged people.

    We can recognize this situation and try to address it as the health condition it is or we can see it as a simple case of people are good or bad and we and other unsuspecting living things will continue to be terribly impacted by this.

    • HITO says:

      The stigma of seeking help for mental illness has significantly lessened over the last 30 years, but now the cost is usually prohibitive.

      In the last 20 years of my various health insurance plans, all psychiatric coverage was subject to meeting a deductible first, usually $5K, and then only reimbursed a portion and had limitations on the number of visits.

      This, while my annual physicals and sick visits averaged a $10-25 copay per visit.

  10. FrankenPC says:

    Anyone who cruelly abuses animals are instantly profiled to be a sociopath with possible borderline personality disorder and/or homicidal tendencies. Classic serial murderer. So, it’s PROBABLY a good thing he offed himself. For societies sake. Sad but true.

    But, for sake of argument, let’s abstract the term “innocent” from the word kitten. It’s usually the concept of innocence that freaks most people out. But, keep in mind: this guy was probably seriously abused while HE was an innocent child. So, do we go to his dad and string him up as well? How about his dad’s dad? How about a society that TRULY doesn’t give a s**T about children.. like Americans don’t (I can back that assertion up by showing how Americans vote and spend their tax dollars).

    So, my statement is simply this: If you are one of the people saying “Burn the witch!!”, then you DAMN WELL better have dumped some money into taking care of troubled human children. Otherwise you are truly talking out your a**.

    Fix the source of the problem and you fix the downstream consequences. Period.

    • KQuark says:

      For one thing I’m taking this story at face value that this guy did assault and torture the cat. Based on that premise, nellie was right about the fact that most sociopaths are born in fact usually the most violent sociopaths have the organic component and environmental component in their personality. But once they exhibit violent tendencies like these there is no such thing as a treatment that cures these people. Some do learn to avoid violent acts but most do re-offend.

      Did this guy deserve a chance in my opinion? Yes. But he should be closely watched no matter how his treatment went. I just think the odds were against society even if he was treated.

      I also think society has the right to be outraged at such an inhumane act because it is not a big step for people capable of doing this to doing it to a human.

      I see both sides but I tend to side with public safety when dealing with violent people like these.

      As far as blame goes I don’t blame the police for bringing him in that’s just standard procedure in an investigation. If they don’t have enough to charge him they have to let him go. The guy had the opportunity to tell his side of the story and cop a plea or ask for help at this point so it was his choice not to cooperate. Maybe they should have given him a 48 hour psych hold (or whatever time that state mandates) but clinical depression was not part of his motivation in this crime. If he was depressed he was probably only depressed because he was caught if he was a true sociopath.

      As far as him deserving death again that was his choice. He thought he deserved death. If someone had killed him it would be a different story. I don’t buy the whole drove them to suicide reasoning in most cases.

      I know being a multiple survivor myself I’m tough on people that take their own lives because when you fight so hard to stay alive it’s hard to have empathy for people that give it up their lives so easily.

      • PepeLepew says:

        I can tell you that under the state law here, the cops could’ve done a psychiatric hold.

        I also agree that anyone capable of doing this to a kitten is capable of doing such a thing to another human being. This guy was in his 60s (67, I believe) and apparently had no criminal record, however. The whole thing was weird.

        • KQuark says:

          It would have just delayed the time he would have gotten out. I still think he was probably depressed because he was caught. I don’t know the particulars like I said but if he did do these acts his biggest psychological defect was lack of empathy.

          • Khirad says:

            Somehow I wonder about that too.

            If there’s one thing that really gets to me it’s people suddenly coming down with “depression”, etc.

            • PepeLepew says:

              When I was a court/crime reporter, I got pretty annoyed with the constant stream of people who went before the judge and excused their horrible, violent acts on alcohol or drugs. It was just such a broken record. Hey, plenty of people have drinking problems, but they don’t beat the crap out of their wives or girlfriends.

    • nellie says:

      Being a sociopath is not necessarily the result of child abuse. Many more people are born that way — with a piece of the brain that does not function.

      Who knows what happened here. It’s another sad story in the long list of sad human events.

      In my opinion, this seems more like a mental illness problem, which is also a sad human condition. This person needed help and didn’t get it — and his behavior only repulsed people instead of signaling that he was in trouble.

      • FrankenPC says:

        True. And that disorder can be diagnosed early as well. Too bad psychiatrists are not accessible to the average income earner. That is until it’s too late and something like this happens.

        Again…priorities. Look what’s happened to the health bill. Bye bye.

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