Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know
According to news accounts, 35-year-old James Whalen had left a telephone message for his fiancée at work, saying he had beaten her cat and the cat was dead. His fiancée called her mother; her mother went to the apartment, picked up the cat, and took it to Dr. Levitzke at the Brooklyn Veterinary Emergency Service in Bay Ridge. There, Dr. Levitzke made careful notes documenting the cat's injuries. He then called the ASPCA.
Special Agent Joe Pentangelo took up the investigation and was the arresting officer in the case. Pentangelo had retired from the New York City Police Department in 2001, where he had served as a Mounted Unit police officer and a detective, worked missing persons, and handled press duties.Pentangelo recalls his first conversation with Whalen: "I said, 'James, I'm here to talk to you about what happened to Darwin.' He just says, 'Oh yeah.' So I Mirandized him." According to Pentangelo, Whalen said he was holding the cat when it bit him. Whalen then grabbed Darwin by the hind legs or the tail and swung the cat several times like a sledgehammer. The cat's head hit the floor with each swing.
"In situations like that, I try to remain as dispassionate as possible," says Pentangelo. "I said, 'Would you write that down for me?' and Whalen wrote it down. I said, 'Do you realize the cat is dead?' He says, 'Oh yeah.' I waited for lab results—blood work, tissue analysis, urinalysis—to confirm that trauma was the cause of death. Once I was satisfied Whalen was responsible, I arrested him and locked him up."
Pentangelo was pleased the Kings County district attorney chose a felony charge in the case, testing Brooklyn's new animal cruelty law. The law specifies that the animal must be considered a companion animal, the abuse must result in serious injury or death, and the abuse must be of sufficient duration to qualify as torture. A single killing blow does not rise to that standard, Pentangelo explains.
"With a misdemeanor, the perp is much more likely to get 10 hours of community service," he says. "Now I can point to cases where people did more than a year. The law is not abstract anymore."