By Shereen Siewert
Dozens of demonstrators are expected to march Friday morning to demand tough penalties for a Wausau man accused of beating his girlfriend’s cat so brutally the animal lost an eye and had to be euthanized.
Andrew Gehr, 30, faces a misdemeanor charge of intentional mistreatment of animals. Demonstrators, who will march at the Marathon County Courthouse before and during Gehr’s 9 a.m. court hearing, want that charge, filed Aug. 23, to better reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Court records indicate prosecutors intend to do just that. Assistant District Attorney Jonathan E. Barnett filed a motion Aug. 26 asking permission to amend the complaint and charge to a single count of mistreating animals – intentional or negligent violation causing disfigurement, under the same state statute. The proposed charge is a class F felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
So far, Circuit Judge Greg Strasser has not ruled on the motion.
As Wausau Pilot & Review previously reported, court records show officers were called Aug. 22 to a home on Robb Street in Schofield for a report of a family disturbance. When officers arrived, they discovered Gehr’s girlfriend’s pet cat, Penelope, in a shed in the backyard, her eye popped out of its socket and her nose and mouth encrusted with blood and dirt.
Police say Gehr, who was living at the home at the time, told his young daughter to go play downstairs before beating the cat and hiding her near-lifeless body in the shed of the couple’s shared home. While Gehr’s girlfriend searched for Penelope, Gehr assisted in the “search” and acted as though he knew nothing, police said.
After Penelope was found she was taken to a local vet, who determined her injuries were similar to those which resulted from being “kicked by a horse, being in a dog fight or hit by a car,” the complaint states. The cat was euthanized due to the extent of her injuries, which likely resulted in total blindness and loss of brain function, court documents state.
Gehr, who has a long criminal history including convictions for theft, possession of methamphetamine, forgery, obstruction and other charges, was jailed on a probation hold but is now free on a $1,000 signature bond. If the charge is amended, the judge could set a new bond in the case.
Prosecutors also filed a motion to amend the conditions of Gehr’s bond. His pretrial conference is set for 9 a.m. in Judge Strasser’s courtroom.
Demonstration organizers, who are also calling for stiffer penalties in animal abuse cases, say they expect up to 75 people to march on Friday.
The state Senate signed off on a bill Tuesday that would increase animal abuse penalties.
Right now the penalty for animal abuse in Wisconsin is a $500 forfeiture. For abuse resulting in mutilation, disfigurement or death, the maximum penalty is 3 1/2 years in prison. The state Senate signed off on a bill last month that would increase animal abuse penalties.
Under the Republican-authored bill, animal abuse that results in death or grievous bodily harm, defined as fractured bones, deep cuts, burns, starvation or being left out in the cold, would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. Someone who knows those actions could result in such injuries would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison.
A GoFundMe for Penelope’s owner can be found here.