Pets in the middle

MASON CITY, Iowa – On August 10th, Mason City Police responded to a call from a woman, asking police to help her move out of her boyfriend’s house. but what started as a routine domestic call, turned into a lot more.

26 year old Dacota Witham is being charged with child endangerment and animal cruelty, after leaving his seven month old home alone on Saturday night. On Sunday, police discovered the family pet, dead in the garage and they believe the animal died in an inhumane way.

This situation shows how domestic disputes can have a wide impact on the family, and in a surprising number of cases, even pets get caught in the middle.

Most pet owners would agree that they can depend on their animals for comfort and friendship.

“I think for a lot of people, especially people in a tough relationship, their pets give them that unconditional love that their not getting from others and I think that batterers can see that,” said Mary Ingham.

Mary Ingham is the Executive Director at Crisis Intervention Service in Mason City.  Her main concern when it comes to getting people out of an abusive relationship, is keeping humans safe, and then the pets.  She’s seen cases where abusers will hurt the pet as an example of what could happen to their spouse.

“They’re afraid that if I leave my cat behind, when I come back, the cat will be dead. So when we do safety planning for victims that want to leave an abusive relationship, planning for their pets is a huge part of that,” said Ingham.

Ingham says sometimes, she’ll have the pet stay at a temporary home until everything calms down.

There are also situations involving divorce, and that’s where those like Attorney Richard Piscopo step in.

“If there are children involved, you want to try to take steps for the best interest of the kids first.  If one parent is with the children, and that’s where the kids are going to live, that’s typically where the kids will stay,” said Piscopo.

He says in a divorce case, they treat a pet like a piece of property, and come to an agreement that usually works out well for both parties.  Piscopo adds even if there are not any kids involved, deciding who gets which pet can be tricky.

“There are times when we’re in a divorce stipulation or decree and we’ve actually prepared a pet visitation schedule for the two people involved.”

Witham is being held in the Cerro Gordo County jail on a 2,000 dollar bond.

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