Man could be tried under new animal abuse law for shooting and paralyzing family pet

Published: Nov. 12, 2014 at 12:52 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2014 at 8:48 PM EST
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(Source: Rowan County Sheriff's Office)
(Source: Rowan County Sheriff's Office)

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Salisbury attorney Reid Acree says a local man could be the first in Rowan County to be tried under a new animal abuse law that could include an active prison sentence of up to ten months in the event of a conviction.

Eric Hillard, 47, was charged in October with cruelty to animals.  Police in Granite Quarry-Faith Police Authority say Hillard shot "Jake," a dog belonging to Karen and Carl Haussman.  The February shooting left the dog paralyzed and in need of constant care from the Haussmans.

The Haussmans estimate that they have already spent more than $10,000 in medical bills for Jake.

The Haussmans offered a $5000 reward for information leading to the charges, and even put up a series of posters along the Faith Fourth of July parade route encouraging people to contact law enforcement about the case.

"He needs to understand that no matter what they put on him as a punishment for this," Karen Haussman told WBTV. "It's nothing compared to what we will go through and what Jake will go through for the rest of his life."

On Wednesday morning Hillard was in court for a probable cause hearing.  Advocates are hopeful that District Attorney Brandy Cook will prosecute the case under what is referred to as "Susie's Law."

"We are seeking justice for our dog," Carl Haussman told WBTV.  "It was just the most horrendous, terrible act of animal cruelty that's actually happened to our family."

"Susie's Law" is named for a dog that was set on fire and beaten by her owner after licking the face of the owner's young child. The dog eventually healed, and the person who beat the dog was sentenced to 4-6 months in prison for burning personal property.  That property was actually the dog.

Advocates who were upset with the sentence began working for a tougher law regarding animal cruelty.  That resulted in the new law making it a Class H felony.  In court on Wednesday the case was scheduled to be heard in mid December.  Eric Hillard told WBTV "no comment" as he left the Rowan County Courthouse.

The Haussmans do have support in the community for their case.  Their attorney, Reid Acree, provided WBTV with letters from Nina Dix, Chair of Shelter Guardians, Inc, as well as Barbara Lawther, Jon Palmer, and Shannon Moore, the Board Chair of Faithful Friends of Rowan County.

In the letter written by Dix, she urges DA Cook to pursue the case under Susie's Law.

"The good people of Rowan County consider animal cruelty to be a horrible crime," Dix wrote.  It has been proven that if a person will commit a brutal act against a defenseless animal, many times that person will eventually commit cruel or senseless acts against women, children, or the elderly."

Acree's paralegal Dana also proviedeprovidedckground research on "Susie's Law;"


Susie is mixed breed dog that was beaten and set on fire at 8 weeks old by her owner because she licked his baby's face.

Ten days later, Susie was found near death in a Greensboro, NC park suffering from second and third degree burns on 60 percent of her body. Her jaw had been broken, her teeth had been knocked out and her ears had been burned to nubs. The open wounds running down her back were infested with maggots. Coincidently, not irony the Guilford County Animal Shelter veterinarian said those maggots saved Susie's life because they ate away the infection in Susie's wounds. Susie survived by eating sticks and food from garbage cans and drinking water from a tiny mud puddle.

Susie was treated daily for her burns for two months at the animal shelter. Other people were also involved in Susie's recovery, transportation for treatments and in her healing process. Eventually, Susie regained her strength and became once again a normal, playful puppy.

She was about 3 months old when she was adopted by Donna and Roy Lawrence. Since Susie's horrific experience, she has been trained to be a therapy dog and has become a Canine Good Citizen. She can even work with burn victims.


Three months after Susie was found, the perpetrator of her abuse was caught and arrested through a tip through Crimestoppers. However, justice would not be served. North Carolina's structured-sentencing guidelines only allowed the guilty party to serve four to five months of a suspended sentence (probation) for a Class I felony of Cruelty to Animals.

LaShawn Whitehead, Susie's abuser, received a sentence of 4-6 months in jail for burning personal property and a 4-5 month suspended sentence for animal cruelty. That's it.  

Shocked by the outcome of the hearing, concerned citizens began asking what they could do to make the animal-cruelty law tougher. The largest grassroots effort in North Carolina began, starting with the five-member Susie's Team. They went on a county-by-county crusade to get the support for North Carolina House Bill 1690 and Senate Bill 254. A letter to our legislators was drafted. Countless letters and e-mails from constituents began pouring into our state legislators' offices asking for a new, stricter animal-cruelty law, one that included jail time for those who abused or neglected animals in North Carolina.

Several legislators responded immediately, including Senator Don Vaughan. In fact, Senator Vaughan wanted to take this a step further. He wanted a new law, Susie's Law, that would allow for tougher sentencing for those convicted of animal abuse. Concerned North Carolina constituents wanted Cruelty to Animals to be reclassified as a Class H felony, instead of a Class I felony. Under that new classification, Susie's perpetrator could have received an active prison sentence for what he did to Susie. Because Susie was his girlfriend's dog, the perpetrator did get prison time due to the burning of personal property, which is a Class H felony that carries an active prison sentence. Therefore Susie's perpetrator could have burned someone's couch and received a tougher penalty than the one he received for burning and torturing Susie.

The proposed bill reclassified felony Cruelty to Animals from a Class I felony to a Class H felony and elevated the A1 misdemeanor of intentionally starving an animal to death to a Class H felony as well. That allowed judges to determine whether to give an active prison sentence. Those proposed changes garnered widespread support from animal lovers including more than 34,000 fans of the Susie's Law Facebook page. Several state politicians joined the fight, and a resolution to take Susie's Law to our state capitol building in Raleigh to introduce the bill was presented to both the Greensboro City Council and to the Guilford County Commissioners.

Gov. Bev Perdue signed Susie's Law on February 23, 2009, making penalties for animal abuse stronger. 

S.B. 254, also H.B. 1690, known as Susie's Law, passed the North Carolina state senate and the House of Representatives easily in a short 2010 session. (see attached)

The law, S.B. 254, Susie's Law, raises the penalty for anyone who "maliciously" kills or causes to be killed an animal by "intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance".

The new law also makes this crime a Class H felony. It is currently a Class A misdemeanor. G.S. 14-360(a1)

Also, under GS 14-360(b) any person who would "maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal" is now guilty of a Class H felony instead of the current Class I felony.