One yellow tabby named Darwin will not soon be forgotten by anyone who knows his story. In April 2004, this 9-lb cat was presented
DOA to Brooklyn, N.Y., emergency veterinarian Brett Levitzke. Dr. Levitzke knew immediately that Darwin had died as a result
of trauma. "I took the woman who brought Darwin in aside and asked her what had happened," he says. "She said her daughter's
fiancé had beaten the cat. I told her that I take this very seriously and that I would get law enforcement involved. She said,
'OK, I want this guy prosecuted.'"
Joseph Pentangelo was the arresting officer in Darwin's case. Pentangelo, who retired from the New York City Police Department
in 2001, is a special agent for Humane Law Enforcement at the ASPCA in New York City.
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."