Police arrested two Lewis County men in November for assaults against two different yet vulnerable victims — a puppy and a baby.
One of the arrests resulted in substantial media coverage that spanned the nation and even was picked up by a few online news networks overseas. The other received only a little news coverage on a local level.
When deputies from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office responded to the 100 block of Oyler Road in Ethel shortly after midnight on Nov. 2 to a call of a disorderly man, they discovered that an “obviously intoxicated” Jessie G. Pegram, now 20, had punched his puppy in the face.
The puppy, a 5-month-old German shepherd named Bernice, sustained injuries to her face and leg and had an “extremely swollen” eye. Pegram was booked into jail for animal cruelty, and Bernice was brought to a veterinarian clinic in the middle of the night because the deputy was concerned about the dog’s injuries.
The next morning, the Sheriff’s Office was flooded with calls from local, regional and national news outlets for more information about the puppy assault.
Two weeks later, deputies arrested 28-year-old Jon M. Parker of Centralia for hitting his 6-month-old son in the face three times — leaving severe bruises to his face, a bump on his head and a cut to his lip and nose.
Chief Deputy Stacy Brown, spokeswoman for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, said between 20 and 30 news agencies contacted her for more information about the punched puppy.
For the assaulted infant, however, only two or three small local news outlets, including The Chronicle, contacted her for more information.
The puppy-punching story was picked up by Mail Online, a news website in the United Kingdom, that ran the story with the headline: “Drunk man, 19, arrested after PUNCHING puppy in the face.” On The Huffington Post, the news story received more than 90 comments and was recommended on Facebook more than 100 times.
Meanwhile, the news story about the infant assault received one comment from a reader on Chronline.com.
Brown and the Lewis County deputy prosecutor who handled both the cases, Shane O’Rourke, both said that while each crime is heinous, the reaction from both the public and media was drastically different.
“Animal cases get so sensationalized and they draw more attention,” O’Rourke said. “It is the defenseless part of it that inspires people.”
O’Rourke added this was not the first time an animal-abuse case he prosecuted garnered a substantial amount of media attention over a child-abuse case.
“They don’t seem to catch the news wave the same way,” he said.
Brown said that while it is always surprising for there to be more interest in cases involving animal abuse than crimes against humans, it’s not uncommon or unexpected.
“Both of them are important, but it’s always surprising and shocking to me when there is more interest in animals than children,” Brown said. “There seems to be more interest in animals for some reason.”
While the news coverage reflects a heightened interest in justice in regard to the puppy assailant, the sentencing ranges for both crimes reflect the opposite, O’Rourke said.
The man who punched the puppy pleaded guilty to first-degree animal cruelty last month and was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail. He will also have to complete 200 hours of community service at an animal shelter as well as pay $1,000 to the Lewis County Animal Cruelty Prevention Fund, in addition to other legal fees.
In a postcard addressed to The Chronicle written by Pegram from jail, he admitted to punching the puppy, but claimed it was in self-defense because the puppy attacked his face.
The man who hit his son pleaded guilty to second-degree assault of a child and was sentenced to serve three years in prison on Wednesday. Parker will also pay several thousand dollars in fees, and a 10-year no-contact order was placed against him preventing him from contacting his son.
Both the baby and the puppy made full recoveries and are not expected to suffer any long-term injuries, O’Rourke said. The infant is now in the custody of his grandmother, and Bernice the dog was adopted by someone who works in the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office after Pegram relinquished all ownership of the dog.