Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ohio: University of Akron student Matthew McCullough, 20, charged with killing roommate’s cat; student is first in Summit County charged under Goddard’s Law

OHIO -- University of Akron student Gillian Strait was sitting in class when she got an urgent text from one of her roommates.

She needed to go to the vet. The roommate had lost his temper with her kitten, Leo.

When Strait arrived at Highland Veterinary Clinic, she learned it was too late. Leo had died from severe head trauma.

Strait was saddened by the loss and furious with her roommate, whom she said Leo was scared of and tried to avoid. She decided to cooperate with the Humane Society officer — alerted by the vet — and seek justice for her beloved orange tabby.

Strait’s roommate, Matthew McCullough, 20, has been charged with animal cruelty for the Feb. 14 incident. He is the first person in Summit County to be prosecuted under Dick Goddard’s Law, which made it a fifth-degree felony to harm a pet.

“I’m really hoping he’s found guilty and has to pay for what he did,” said Strait, 19, a sophomore majoring in music. “I understand accidents happen. It doesn’t seem to be an accident.”

McCullough was expected to receive a summons Friday and is scheduled to be arraigned at 12:30 p.m. March 3 in Akron Municipal Court. He could face six months to a year in prison.

“I have nothing to say about the matter,” McCullough said Friday when a Beacon Journal reporter knocked on his door.

Dick Goddard’s law, named for the retired Fox 8 weatherman who pushed for it, became effective in September. Several other people in Ohio also have been charged under the law, including a 19-year-old woman in Cuyahoga County who admitted to slamming an 8-week-old puppy to the ground. The puppy suffered a broken neck and died. The woman will be sentenced March 6.

The incident involving Leo happened at the off-campus apartment on Carroll Street that Strait and McCullough shared with three other UA students.

Strait and her friends had adopted Leo last October after finding the then-7-month-old kitten left behind by prior residents. Strait took the kitten to the vet for vaccinations and had him neutered.

Strait said Leo was friendly and playful and sought attention from anyone who visited. She said the kitten didn’t like McCullough, though, and hid when he came into the apartment.

She said she had asked McCullough to stop tormenting her pet, especially after the kitten relieved himself on the floor a few times after stressful encounters with McCullough.

Tim Harland, the senior humane officer with the Humane Society of Summit County, said McCullough told the staff at Highland Veterinary Clinic that he got upset and threw Leo into the wall. He said the kitten was dead when McCullough brought him in.

Harland talked to staff at the clinic, who had alerted him about the incident, got the medical records and spoke to McCullough and Strait. After consulting with the Akron Prosecutor’s Office, he decided McCullough should be charged under the new, tougher cruelty law.

“It was a case study almost of the Goddard Law,” Harland said.

McCullough told his former roommates that Leo bit, scratched and defecated on him and he became upset and threw the kitten. This account doesn’t make sense to Strait, though, because her pet avoided McCullough. She also said McCullough had no fresh scratches or marks on him.

“We don’t really know what happened,” said Strait, who has since moved to a different apartment. “We’re thinking something more went on.”

Diane Johnson, president and CEO of the Humane Society, hopes this case serves as a warning that animal cruelty is being treated more seriously than when it was only a misdemeanor. She says the Goddard Law was a good first step and hopes eventually to see the penalties increased even more.

“These pets, they are vulnerable animals,” she said. “They can’t defend themselves. I don’t think the laws are strong enough.”

Johnson praised the Highland Veterinary Clinic for alerting her agency right away.

“We rely on the public’s help in finding these cases,” she said. “Tim and the other humane officer are diligent about pursuing them. We take this very, very seriously.”

( - Feb 24, 2017)