SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - Animals are often the silent victims of abuse. But North Carolina has a new law with a lot of bite to put the criminals who harm pets in the doghouse.
A Cleveland County man is behind bars accused of beating his dog to near death. An animal cruelty case the likes of which officers haven't seen before.
And now they're using a new law, called "Susie's Law," to go after the owner. And if he's convicted it could land him in prison.
The law gets its name from a dog that was tortured and set on fire.
When North Carolina lawmakers were debating it last year supporters were saying you could get more punishment for setting a couch on fire than setting a dog on fire.
Animal cruelty laws got tougher.
We begin with the happy part to a sad story.
Marguerite Mebane showed us the puppies the Cleveland County Humane Society inherited - a little brown one and two little chocolate ones. They were saved after Animal Control officers went to Sam Mullinax's home south of Shelby Tuesday afternoon.
Officers were called to the home when a passerby called 911 and reported seeing Mullinax beating his dog with a broomstick.
"It was obvious this was a malicious beating. This wasn't someone who just was punishing a dog. This was a malicious beating," said Mebane.
Mullinax admitted to Cleveland County Animal Control that he beat the dog because it wouldn't obey his commands.
Tripp Bowling is the Animal Control Director.
"Have you seen a case like this? No. No. I've not been on anything this.. truly a malicious act."
It's why sheriff's deputies charged Mullinax under a new law passed by North Carolina lawmakers last year.
Known as "Susie's Law" it reclassifies "malicious abuse, torture or killing" of an animal as a Class H felony increasing the penalties for animal cruelty to a maximum 10-month prison sentence.
"Due to the fact that he beat the dog with a stick that would be considered a malicious act. He beat him knowing what he was doing," said Bowling.
Lashawn Whitehead of Greensboro did about the same thing the summer of 2009. He was convicted of setting on fire and leaving to die a shepherd mix puppy named Susie.
The stiffest penalty Whitehead could receive was probation.
Animal lovers were so outraged that they got animal cruelty penalties stiffened and Governor Bev Perdue signed the bill into law in June of last year.
Now convicted offenders can receive active prison time which is what officials are pushing for in Sam Mullinax's case.
Officers say his dog was so severely beaten it had a fractured skull, brain damage and had to be put down.
The dog's puppies are now in the care of Marguerite Mebane and others at the Cleveland County Humane Society.
And their message is take animal abuse serious.
"When someone is cruel to an animal.. that's usually just the start. People that are cruel to animals go on to be cruel to people," says Mebane.
Sam Mullinax, 64, is in the Cleveland county jail in Shelby under a $10,000 secured bond.
It's the first time "Susie's Law" has been used in Cleveland county.
To make their case Animal Control officers have Mullinax's statement, evidence on the broomstick, but they would like to hear from the witness to the beating who called 911.