Marchers outside the Marathon County Courthouse on Oct. 15, 2021 call for felony charges against a man accused in a cat's beating. Contributed photo

By Shereen Siewert

A judge on Friday declined to rule on a prosecutor’s motion to seek felony charges in the case of a Wausau man accused of beating his former girlfriend’s cat, citing lack of a defense attorney in the courtroom.

Andrew Gehr booking photo courtesy of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department

Andrew Gehr, 30, is accused of beating his girlfriend’s cat so brutally the animal lost an eye and had to be euthanized. In August, prosecutors filed a misdemeanor charge of animal mistreatment against Gehr, prompting an outcry from members of the community who want the man to face felony charges and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Three days after the initial charge was filed, Marathon County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Barnett filed a motion that seeks to to amend the complaint and charge to a single count of intentional or negligent animal mistreatment causing disfigurement, under the same state statute. The new proposed charge is a class F felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

Demonstrators circled the courthouse on Friday as the hearing for Gehr, who is not in custody, was held. Circuit Judge Greg Strasser added a condition to Gehr’s signature bond that prevents him from sharing a home with any animals or pets while the case progresses. But Strasser stopped short of ruling on Barnett’s motion, noting that a public defender has not yet been appointed for Gehr.

Police say Gehr violently beat the animal, then hid her in a shed and pretended to help his now former girlfriend look for her. The cat, Penelope, was euthanized due to the extent of her injuries. The alleged beating took place at a Schofield apartment.

A pretrial conference is set for December.