Statistics on animal cruelty are staggering. According to humanesociety.org, the number of abused animals each year is much higher than what we think because many animal cruelty cases are not reported. Many animal abuse cases are organized like dogfighting or cockfighting. Multiple homicides happen at these locations. Additionally, narcotics and drug cartels funnel money through these underground fighting rings. Sadly, domestic abuse cases are often also linked to cases of animal cruelty. Approximately 150 million dogs and cats are in homes where someone is the victim of domestic assault. 71% of those people reported that the abuser also targeted their pets. Although statistics show how many dog and cat victims are abused each year along with their humans, putting a face to one of the victims makes the staggering statistics even more real. Unfortunately, these faces are rarely seen unless the case is so terrible it makes the news. Recently, in Kentucky, one story was that terrible, and a man was sentenced to prison. A poodle named Duke made the news because someone was heartless enough to burn him alive in a Fairgrounds bathroom.
On June 6th, Gina Howard realized her poodle Duke was missing. Her thought was that he’d gotten out while some relatives were at her house grieving over a family tragedy. As the search unfolded, officers spoke to Bryan Matthew’s girlfriend. She told the police that she had asked Matthews to bathe the dog because she noticed it had fleas. Additionally, she let them know that the last she saw the dog was when she told Matthews to take it away. He returned a little while later after her request, saying he left the dog at the fairgrounds.
Gina Howard knocked on doors and asked her neighbors if they’d seen Duke. She posted pictures on social media and reached out to several shelters. She searched one more day and still didn’t find her beloved poodle. Finally, she called the Humane Society and received the devastating news. On June 7th, officers with Animal Control and HPB found Duke in a men’s restroom at Sam Ball Way Fairgrounds. He was burned alive. Later, Matthews’s girlfriend confronted him, but he said he had only left Duke at the fairgrounds.
According to my1053wjlt.com, multiple organizations began funds to bring Duke’s killer to justice. They started a gofundme account on behalf of the Humane Society of Henderson County with one goal, to arrest and convict the person responsible. Peta is matching the money raised. Another company, Pet Food Center, owned by Michael Stepto, also announced a match to funds raised. Additionally, The Humane Society of Henderson County started Duke’s Justice Foundation, a national reward fund is to help other small animals not suffer the same fate as Duke. When police started looking for the person who set Duke on fire, they first looked for people who might have been upset with Howard or her family. Although there were several small instances, nothing stood out. There was limited footage at the fairgrounds, but unfortunately, the vehicle was hard to see, and only the flames were distinct. Nonetheless, they kept looking. When Gina Howard finally saw Matthews, she had never met him. It’s still unclear what motivated him to burn an innocent dog alive.
When Gina Howard spoke to wbir.com shortly after Duke’s death, she said, “we had another death in the family, and we were sort of grieving that.” She mentioned how Duke got out in the chaos, the search, and the sad fate of her dog. Besides her shock at how hard her children were taking Duke’s death, her biggest concern was that another family pet didn’t suffer the same fate.
After the autopsy on Duke, conclusive evidence showed that nothing else contributed to the dogs’ death besides the fire. A year after he was arrested, Bryan K Matthews Jr. was convicted for burning Duke alive. The Henderson Circuit court gave him five years to torture an animal resulting in death, and five years for third-degree arson. Both sentences will run consecutively.
According to Peta.org, acts of animal cruelty and acts of human cruelty do not happen independently. Most times, killing an animal is the first indication of a darker mental illness. Most times, these people harbor a deep hatred towards people in their lives and are enacting it on a helpless animal. It’s hard to miss true crime stories about people with stations like Investigation Discovery, but more often than not, stories like Dukes don’t make the news.
Some will think that Matthews’s sentence was too harsh and others too lenient because this is a case of a dog and not of a person. Yet, why is killing a dog any different? Animal cruelty laws have a lot of grey areas and differ by state. According to straypetadvocacy.org, in Kentucky, torture of an animal only classified as a Class A Misdemeanor typically only carries a $500 fine and up to one year in prison. Although thankfully, Duke’s murder was much more high-profile, so it helped give a sentence more befitting of a crime of this magnitude.
In the end, many cases like this will never see a courtroom because the issues are linked with other instances of assault and abuse against women and children. However, knowing that a bit of poodle helped put a face to cruelty animals suffer for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In an interview with 14new.com, Howard talked about all that happened last year and Matthews’ conviction. She still feels like she doesn’t have answers and doesn’t understand why this happened. Additionally, she is praying for him and trying to find understanding and not hate. She wants him to be convicted, but she also wants him to get help and resources to do this again.