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updated: 5/14/2012 5:19 AM

Demonstrators in Aurora dog abuse case give animals a voice

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  • Andrea Pasdiora, left, of Glendale Heights, was among a group of protesters who gathered outside a Kane County courthouse last year for a hearing in the case of Phillip Rinn.

       Andrea Pasdiora, left, of Glendale Heights, was among a group of protesters who gathered outside a Kane County courthouse last year for a hearing in the case of Phillip Rinn.
    Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

  • Phillip Rinn

      Phillip Rinn

 
 

There was just something about the case that pushed Jeannette Schulz to bundle up on a cold December 2010 morning, make a sign and drive to St. Charles.

Learning about how an Aurora man previously convicted of brutally killing his German shepherd was now accused of breaking five of another dog's teeth with a broomstick just got under her skin and prompted her to take action.

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"We have to be the voice for animals. If humans aren't, then who is? " said Schulz, a German shepherd owner who serves as executive director and founder of On Angel's Wings, a pet rescue in Crystal Lake.

She'd written emails and mailed letters before, but that December morning was the first time she was compelled to physically protest any cause in person.

"We have to be that change that we want to see in others," Schulz said. "It wasn't like (the case) was in California or Texas and we couldn't do something about it. We were afraid he'd get nothing and get off."

The Phillip Rinn case, which is due for sentencing May 31, drew groups of protesters to the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles. As court continuances dragged on, the crowds dwindled, but it's a safe bet some will return with protest signs later this month when the 43-year-old man's case is back in court.

Horrible crimes like murder, domestic abuse and child sexual assault appear in court almost daily without protesters standing out in the cold or sitting through a dry legal proceeding to make their feelings known.

So why do some care so much about Rinn's case? Why no demonstrations when it comes to cases of human tragedy?

Mylan Engel, a Northern Illinois University professor of philosophy who specializes in animal ethics, said part of the anger is fueled by the media grabbing onto a story, but also the desire to make a difference.

"We have a selective concern," he said. "People show up to protest because they really want the judge to take the case seriously and give a stiff sentence instead of a slap on the wrist."

Engel noted that just because throngs aren't protesting other cases doesn't mean people don't care, don't want to help, or value animals more than humans.

If the perceived injustice is strong enough, people will take to the streets or the courthouse steps, he said, noting the marches and demonstrations prompted by the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Rinn initially faced a misdemeanor charge after the November 2010 beating of Magda, a then-1-year-old shepherd-Labrador mix, but the allegations were upgraded to a felony because of his record.

He spent 30 days in jail and was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service after being found guilty of a 1993 charge that he chained his dog up, dragged it behind his vehicle and then detached it and ran over it to kill it.

A judge rejected Rinn's claims that the dog had rabies and tried to bite his wife.

Rinn's attorney, Ned Khan, could not be reached for comment.

"People are wondering how it is even possible that, after dragging a dog, how is it possible that he can ever have another animal?" Engel asked. "It's this totally innocent animal that can't get away and you abuse it. People are outraged that there's this severe violation of trust that's going on."

If it's a matter of violating trust, why not more outrage over people charged with child abuse or battery of a pregnant woman?

Gretchen Vapnar, executive director of the Community Crisis Center, an emergency domestic violence shelter in Elgin, said some people still wrongly blame an adult for being in an abusive relationship and question why the person doesn't just leave.

"When people first think about it, they believe an adult has some choice that an animal does not," Vapnar said, adding that some others wrongly believe a victim did something to deserve the abuse.

Michelle Meyer, executive director of Mutual Ground, a domestic abuse shelter in Aurora, said she doesn't like to compare animal abuse to domestic violence, but said the two are linked as studies have shown people who abuse animals are usually violent toward humans as well.

"It's really hard to compare the two," Meyer said. "People should be protesting when a victim of domestic abuse is hurt or murdered. I would love to see more protests and passion surrounding victims of domestic violence. What's important to know is a lot of times (domestic violence) victims don't have a choice either. The shelters and agencies, they're often the voice for the victim."

Rinn entered a guilty plea in March to the felony animal cruelty charge. Judge Timothy Sheldon will hear arguments in aggravation from prosecutors and mitigating factors from the defense attorney before issuing a sentence.

The conviction carries a maximum one- to three-year prison term, but probation also is an option. A different judge already has ruled that Rinn can't have his dog back, and it's since been adopted to another owner.

Between now and May 31, Sheldon is likely to hear numerous opinions on what is a just sentence. Ellen Day, director and founder of Friends of the Animal Kingdom, a Bloomingdale-based group that operates an emergency food shelter for pet owners in financial need, is encouraging people to write letters to the judge.

"There should be no tolerance toward that type of behavior. We live in a civilized society," Day said. "There is no reason in the world anybody should do something like that."

Day, who founded the group in 2003, has not demonstrated outside the courthouse, but feels compelled to make her opinion known on behalf of Rinn's former dog and pets everywhere.

"This particular defendant has a prior history of violence to domestic animals, in this case dogs," Day said. "They need to send this particular defendant a strong message that this type of behavior is not acceptable. (Animal abuse) is a crime, not a traffic ticket. They don't have a voice like us where they can speak. We have to be their voice."

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