FORT WAYNE – A Fort Wayne man was charged Tuesday with abusing a kitten that officials believe was dropped into a fire.
A neighbor heard the kitten crying and found it near the yard of a home where Matthew Jerome was in June, according to an Allen Superior Court probable cause affidavit.
The neighbor took the kitten to Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, where officials found its paws were burned, its tail fur was singed and it had no facial whiskers, court papers said.
Investigators determined the cat belonged to Jerome's girlfriend. The girlfriend told investigators that Jerome didn't want the cat and would often complain about it being around, the affidavit said.
While being questioned by animal care officials, Jerome said he "could have burned the kitten's whiskers while flicking his lighter" and "that he may have 'bumped' the kitten into the fire," the affidavit said.
Jerome, 22, of the 6000 block of Yellowstone Drive, was arrested Tuesday night. He is charged with two felony counts and one misdemeanor count of cruelty to an animal. His bail was $5,750.
Investigators showed photos of the kitten and gave Jerome's statement to Dr. Randy Lockwood, senior vice president of Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals.
Lockwood said the kitten's burned paws were more consistent with its being dropped into a fire and that the pattern and consistent length of the burns suggested it was a purposeful burning.
Lockwood also said a cat's brain processes information provided to it by its whiskers and that burning the whiskers was an act of cruelty, according to court records.
Belinda Lewis, executive director of Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, had previously said that when the kitten was found in the 4500 block of Foxgrove Avenue, near West Washington Center and Huguenard roads, it had a rubber band around its tail that authorities believe was used to attach fireworks.
"People need to remember that in any community, it's critical to address animal cruelty," Lewis said Tuesday.
"It has been shown that overt acts of animal cruelty are very strongly linked to the escalation of human violence."
Jerome pleaded guilty to domestic battery in 2009 and served four months in jail, according to court records.
Lewis said the female cat was given the name Sparkles and is in the care of a veterinarian as she recovers.
The cat is expected to get clearance from the veterinarian and the Allen County Prosecutor's Office, Lewis said, which would allow her to be adopted within the next couple of months.
Animal Care & Control will use a lottery system to select who will adopt Sparkles because so many people are interested, Lewis said.