The death of Captain, a two-year old German shepherd found bloody and dying in a Vancouver dumpster two weeks ago, has captivated people near and far.
The story made news across the country, while local residents reached into their pockets to raise more than $74,000 for the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' animal cruelty division. A vigil was also held in Captain's honour.
Now, details emerging about Brian Whitlock – the man identified by the B.C. SPCA in court documents as Captain's owner – are raising questions about the role of an owner's mental health in animal abandonment or cruelty cases.
Captain died one day after the B.C. SPCA rescued him from a Kitsilano dumpster where he lay badly beaten. The underweight dog had lacerations on his head and neck and was unable to walk. According to court documents, a Vancouver Police Department constable found a knife, baseball bat, heavy chain and piles of animal feces in Mr. Whitlock's home. He had only had the dog for about two months.
The documents also revealed Mr. Whitlock's mother "confirmed her son was having some mental-health issues."
Neither Mr. Whitlock nor his mother could be reached for comment.
Marcie Moriarty, the general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said the society investigates a few cases a year where the owner has a mental disorder. She said their biggest challenge is with chronic hoarders, who sometimes keep their animals in shocking conditions.
"We've been in cases where there's dead animals rotting on a counter top," Ms. Moriarty said. "The feces – human and animal – inches thick, covering the entire place. Animals stacked in crates – one on top of the other – multiple to a crate."
Edward Taylor, the director of the University of British Columbia's Okanagan School of Social Work, studies violence and mental illness. Only a small number of people with mental illness will be cruel to people or animals, he said. Some schizophrenic people can have hallucinations urging them to be violent or can develop an addiction to violent behaviour, he said.
"Many things can bring us pleasure," Dr. Taylor said. "[They can think] that it is exciting to capture the animal, hurt the animal."
The anxiety and depression that is often a part of mental illness can cause owners to neglect their pets, he added.
On social media, people have been quick to brand Captain's owner a villain, captioning his photo on the Facebook page for the dog's vigil "killer." Other commenters have called for vigilante justice. While some have heard claims the owner may have mental-health issues, little sympathy is in evidence.
The B.C. SPCA launched an investigation assisted by the VPD into Captain's death and recommended charges against Captain's owner last week. Crown counsel still has to approve the charges of causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal. If convicted, the owner could serve a maximum of five years in prison and never be allowed to own animals.
In cases where the owner has a mental illness, said Ms. Moriarty of the B.C. SPCA, the society will still recommend charges, but will try to get the person some help to prevent them from re-offending.
She said she is hopeful the Crown will make a decision about the recommended charges within the next two weeks.
With a report from The Canadian Press.