A Bennington County landlord faces charges of killing his tenant's pets -- including burning one of them.
"She was like one of my kids," said Kelly Gancarz, fighting back tears as she talked about the loss of her 4 year old cat, Dizzy. "I hear the last cry she made that night."
Police say the cat was crying for help. They've charged Gancarz's landlord, Michael Choquette, with killing the animal -- burning it in a woodstove just outside the apartment building in Readsboro.
"The cruelty is an exceptional level of cruelty," said Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage.
According to court papers, Choquette told authorities he accidentally killed the cat last Sunday when he hit it with a stick as he loaded his wood boiler. He claims he threw the remains in the fire, hoping Gancarz would not find them. But she did the next day.
"The minute I opened the wood stove, there was my cats leg," Gancarz said.
Police don't believe it was an accident. Choquette had been complaining about the cat and its constant meowing and he had reportedly told a person close to him he wanted to shoot it. And police say this isn't the first time Choquette has targeted a tenant's animal. Their investigation revealed the previous tenant's cat was poisoned last year. Choquette is now charged with two felony counts of animal cruelty.
After pleading not guilty at his arraignment, Choquette declined to speak to reporters to give his version of what happened.
State's Attorney Marthage says she has prosecuted numerous animal cruelty cases since 2007, but this is the first felony animal cruelty charge she's brought. "We have filed a lot of animal cruelty charges, but typically they include hoarding or not taking care of the animals, not providing proper food or shelter or water, not this level of cruelty we have encountered here," she said.
"I have a lot of guilt for not going all the way out there, even though I know I probably couldn't save her," Kelly Gancarz said.
If found guilty of the charges, Choquette could face up to six years in prison.
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