Columbus Man Pleads Guilty to Trapping, Stomping Wife’s Beloved Dachshund to Death
The Columbus man who calmly walked into a backyard kennel, caught, trapped and mercilessly stomped his wife’s 9-yearold Dachshund, Penny, on January 6, 2022 has pleaded guilty to aggravated animal cruelty. Charles Van Pelt, 27, faced a maximum five years in prison for the felony offense that left the dog so critically injured she was euthanized the next day. In a negotiated plea Tuesday, August 23, he was sentenced to five years in prison with three to serve and the rest on probation.
On a surveillance camera video, Charles Van Pelt, 27, is seen walking calmly into a backyard kennel to carry out his malicious act of catching, trapping and mercilessly stomped his wife’s 9-year-old Dachshund, Penny, to death while other dogs watched in a neighboring pen. The attack left Penny so critically injured that her head was misshapen and she had traumatic brain injury. Superior Court Judge Ron Mullins also ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine, perform 1,000 hours of community service, pay his estranged wife Loren Van Pelt $761.92 in restitution for vet bills, and abide by a list of other restrictions prosecutors requested [see below], based on his past conduct. Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Schwartz said the husband exhibited emotionally abusive and manipulative behavior toward his wife and her pets before he critically injured the 17-pound dog on Jan. 6, outside the couple’s Columbus, Georgia duplex. Schwartz, who helped write the majority of felony animal cruelty laws in Georgia, prosecuted the Columbus case. In her 35th year of fighting crime, Ms. Schwartz has seen it all and has trained many in her field on successful animal cruelty prosecutions. “Violence against an animal is often used as either a substitute for violence against a domestic partner, a practice/ warm-up, or a coercive measure designed to instill fear,” said Schwartz.
Van Pelt had remarked to his wife that he could not wait for the dog to die; told her once he had kicked the dog “like a football” and he had hit the pet with a water bottle; and often commented to his wife and others that she loved the dogs more than him. This conduct, viewed in the context of his later crushing the dog, was alarming in light of established links between family violence and animal abuse, Schwartz said. “This is especially known in a domestic-violence context, where violence against an animal is often used as either a substitute for violence against a domestic partner, or is a practice warm up, or is a coercive measure designed to instill fear,” she told Mullins, later adding, “hopefully we have intervened with Mr. Van Pelt before he starts acting out against humans, and this sentence will interrupt any future behavior in that regard.” Defense attorney Anthony Johnson told the court Van Pelt had no history of domestic abuse, and his wife has never accused him of physically assaulting her. Johnson said he wanted to pursue a more lenient sentence, but his client decided to take responsibility for his actions and accept the plea deal, without prolonging the court case. “He did not want to put Mrs. Van Pelt through that,” Johnson said. “He wanted to take full accountability of his actions, and I think that speaks volumes when you have an individual that is going against his own attorney’s recommendation, for a harsher punishment.”
He asked Mullins to grant his client first offender status, which would have cleared Van Pelt’s criminal record if he successfully completed his probation. The judge refused to do that after Schwartz told him Van Pelt had been charged with sexual assault in Russell County, Alabama, describing the alleged victim as above the age of consent but developmentally challenged. Court records showed Van Pelt was arrested for that case on July 7, 2016, but it was dismissed the next year, after Van Pelt passed a polygraph test.
Schwartz recounted Van Pelt’s attack on the Dachshund, which was partially captured on a backyard security camera shortly after noon on Jan. 6. Though he claimed he had to break up a dog fight between Penny and her kennel mate, a 16-year-old chihuahua named Abby, two dogs pictured in an adjacent kennel showed no signs of agitation as he “very calmly walked” to Penny’s pen, bordered by chain-link fencing, Schwartz said. The camera angle was too high to show Penny, Abby or Van Pelt’s feet. The recording captured Van Pelt close the gate, go off camera briefly, then come back into view, brace himself against the fence, and stomp on something. “He’s doing this with enough force that the whole kennel is shaking,” the prosecutor said. Later he’s shown picking up a heavy glass bowl, raising it over his head and slamming it down, presumably on the dog, leaving her with horrific cuts. His wife had used the bowl for dog water, because it was too heavy for her pets to overturn.
After that, Van Pelt started texting on his phone, Schwartz said: “There’s no effort to render any kind of aid. He just walks out of the kennel, closes the gate and sits down, very calmly.” In a later interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Loren Van Pelt said her husband’s brother, who lived in the duplex next door, called her at 12:07 p.m. and told her to come home, just minutes after her husband had dropped her off at work at a midtown pet salon.
A co-worker drove her home, where they found Charles standing over the dying dog, Loren said. “There’s that killer dog,” he told them as they grabbed Penny and rushed the bleeding pet to the vet, Loren said. Schwartz said the veterinarian found the pet’s skull misshapen, and Penny had repeated seizures from the traumatic brain injury that led to her death.
Van Pelt told the L-E she caught COVID-19 after that and was bedridden for 10 days, during which she decided to review the surveillance footage to see if it confirmed her husband’s account. When she saw the recording, she made up an excuse to take her other three dogs to visit her parents, and did not return for her other possessions until her husband was arrested. She filed for divorce while he was jailed.
On Tuesday, her husband told Judge Mullins he had signed the divorce papers, but they got lost in the mail, so the two are still married.
As part of Charles Van Pelt’s sentence, he will have to abide by these probation conditions that Schwartz said were based on his offense and past behavior: He is not to own a domesticated animal nor visit any place where one is present.
He is to have no contact with Loren Van Pelt or her family. He is to own no firearm or ammunition.
He is to consume no alcohol or illegal drugs, and must undergo testing. He is to undergo a mental health and alcohol abuse evaluation, and complete any recommended treatment. He must participate in an anger management and domestic violence intervention program. He must submit a DNA sample. He must be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
He must abide by a curfew. He is not to seek any early termination of his probation or its conditions.
Judge Mullins included all the aforementioned requirements to Van Pelt’s sentence, during a court hearing that was held via Zoom. Loren Van Pelt was among those to witness the sentencing, but she did not address the court Tuesday. “I’m actually very happy with the outcome,” she said in a phone call to the Ledger- Enquirer, adding, “I’m glad I can move on from this whole situation.” Of her beloved dog Penny, she said, “I’m going to miss her forever.” But she can’t dwell on that, she said: “I’m just putting this all behind me.”
This story was compiled by using information from The Columbus Enquirer and the Animal Protection Society via Animallawsource.