Animal welfare groups across Chicago urged people to take caution as they adopt and give away pets after a Wicker Park man was accused of animal cruelty for allegedly adopting, torturing and killing several kittens.
Thomas Martel, 22, drowned and squeezed two cats to death and fatally mutilated another “with a sharp object,” Chicago police alleged in an arrest report.
Officers found another cat dead in a plastic bag inside Martel’s Wicker Park apartment.
Martel’s girlfriend told officers the cat died after it was microwaved, the arrest report said.
Martel turned himself into the 14th District station in Logan Square alongside his attorney on Monday, the report said.
Each of the at least four cats Martel allegedly killed had been named Shelly, police said. .
Martel was charged with two felony counts of animal torture and four felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals. He was released after his father posted the required 10% of his $75,000 bond, under the condition that he will be electronically monitored and not acquire or have contact with animals, court records show. His next court appearance is scheduled for Monday.
Adoption agencies and animal welfare groups across Chicago told the Tribune the case was disturbing and unusual.
“I’d like to think that most people are looking for a pet,” said Avril Kulla, field service coordinator for the Anti-Cruelty Society. “It’s a big city. So unfortunately, we see a lot of different shades of neglect and cruelty.”
People who need to give up animals can bring them to trustworthy shelters like the Anti-Cruelty Society, Kulla said.
“We don’t turn away animals,” she said. “We just want to provide people a safe place to take their animals.”
The organization also investigates incidents of animal cruelty, she added. It can be hard to prove animals have been abused without evidence, and it’s important to call 911 and, if possible, record video when abuse is seen in action, she said.
Kulla also encouraged people to avoid outlets like Craigslist for pet adoption. People looking to adopt or give away animals should instead use monitored websites from recognized organizations, she said.
“There are no kinds of restrictions whatsoever with regard to how people interact on there, who can post and can pick up,” she said.
Pet owners should have extensive conversations and a safe first meeting with people looking to adopt, Kulla said. Asking questions about what happened to someone’s last pet and who their veterinarian was is another important step, she added.
“It can be a bit of a personal question. But it shouldn’t be something someone is not willing to share,” Kulla said.
PAWS Chicago CEO Susanna Wickham praised Martel’s girlfriend for reporting the alleged abuse to police. Animals are voiceless and rely on people to speak up for them, she said.
Staffers across her organization, which she said runs the Midwest’s largest no-kill shelter, felt a collective angst upon hearing about the alleged kitten killing and torture, Wickham said.
“I was nauseous reading the details of what happened to those kittens,” she said. “That is exactly what we try to prevent when we find homes for homeless pets.”
Deliberate abuse against animals is rare, she said, but harmful neglect is more common. Many animals aren’t fed enough or are kept in hoarding situations, she said.
The adoption process at PAWS is intensive, Wickham said. The organization gets a strong sense of how the animal will be cared for and what an adopter’s history with animals is like, she said. If the adopter gets a pet, it will have been spayed or neutered, fed and vaccinated.
“So I think you can adopt with confidence,” she said.
Chicago is facing the “high season” for stray kittens, Wickham said. She encouraged people who find newborn cats to bring them to animal care and control.
“People who are just breeding or putting a cat on Craigslist may not realize the potential pitfalls they might be facing,” she said. “These could be good Samaritans trying their best to find a home for kittens they found.”
Chicago Tribune editors’ top story picks, delivered to your inbox each afternoon.
Pet owners giving up their animals should be wary of people looking to take them for free, said Chicago Animal Care and Control spokesperson Armando Tejeda.
“If they can’t afford a $50 adoption free, what’s someone going to do later if something comes up with the pet,” Tejeda said.
People should also watch out for “standoffishness” and an unwillingness to share a veterinarian reference for past pets, he added.
In the past 12 days, 471 new animals have been brought to CACC, Tejeda said. The numbers haven’t been so high since “way before COVID,” he said, a trend he contributes to people returning to work and moving.
Adoption counselors are still meeting with potential adopters and running background checks to make sure pets and people are good fits, but the city agency has temporarily waived adoption fees.
Tejeda said Martel’s name didn’t appear in the city’s shelters records. “I’m glad they caught him,” he said.