Kelly Brown said she’s still haunted by what happened to her cat, Tazz, burned and tortured by a house sitter while Brown was away last year.
But after more than a year of waiting for justice, Brown watched as Michael Rowe, the man caught on surveillance video tormenting her pet, was sentenced on a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge in an Anchorage courtroom Wednesday.
Rowe told District Court Judge Judge Jo-Ann Chung he has since undergone treatment for a heroin addiction. He said he used several drugs and blacked out when he abused the cat.
“I wish it never happened,” Rowe said. “... Her cat didn’t deserve that.”
Brown had left her small, chunky black-and-white cat at home with a friend while she spent a few days in Kenai in July 2021. Her friend’s boyfriend, Rowe, also watched the cat while she was away.
When she returned home, Brown couldn’t find Tazz anywhere. The cat returned home later that day and jumped in through the window before collapsing onto the floor.
Brown said she was immediately horrified. Tazz had large swaths of missing fur and raw skin, especially around her neck and face. It looked like she’d been in a fight with another cat — “she can’t run very fast” — and Brown took her to the veterinarian because the injuries were so severe.
The cat was initially treated for those injuries, but it wasn’t until Brown brought her back to the vet roughly 14 hours later after the cat’s condition had worsened that the signs of torture emerged.
They shaved Tazz and Brown said they discovered what appeared to be severe burns covering the cat “from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail. All of her paw pads and everything. She was just a mess.”
At that point, Brown said, she began reviewing footage from a camera inside her house. In the video, Rowe can be seen “aggressively charging, chasing, and cornering the cat,” an Anchorage police officer wrote in a criminal complaint attached to charging documents filed against Rowe. The cat can be heard screaming from other areas of the house, Brown said.
Brown contacted Anchorage Animal Care & Control and an investigation began. Eventually police were involved, leading Rowe to be charged in October 2021.
It’s still not clear exactly what Rowe did to Tazz to cause the burns, Brown said, because he saw the camera and unplugged it after the first day but watched the cat for three more days.
Rowe in court Wednesday said he didn’t remember what happened. He did not speak to reporters after the hearing.
For a long time, the cat’s condition was touch and go, Brown said. Tazz was covered in bandages and had to return to the vet every five days to have her dressings changed under general anesthesia. She could hardly walk. Wounds covered her paw pads.
More than a year after the initial injuries, Tazz still has bald patches where her fur will likely never regrow. The cat will have to take medicine on and off for the rest of her life to deal with nerve pain, Brown said.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Deputy Municipal Prosecutor Monica Elkinton said the municipality takes animal cruelty cases so seriously in part because “animals can’t speak for themselves.”
Studies have also shown that people who harm animals are likely to harm other humans.
Rowe said during the hearing that this incident made him decide to get sober and he has been attending outpatient drug addiction treatment since.
He pleaded no contest to the animal cruelty charge on Wednesday and was sentenced to 15 days in jail as part of the plea agreement. He will also participate in an anger management course, pay a $500 fine and restitution to Brown and spend three years on probation, during which he will be barred from owning cats or dogs.
Elkinton said veterinarian bills for Tazz’s treatment cost nearly $4,000.
The sentence is focused on rehabilitation, Chung said. The judge hopes anger management courses will help Rowe address underlying issues that caused him to harm an animal.
The abuse is especially concerning because animals are so vulnerable, she said.