A Dead Dog, An Injured Cat, and a Vicious Online Campaign
Courtesy Valerie Swartztrauber
A Garden Oaks-area family has accused a neighbor of gunning down their dog in cold blood, and their supporters have mounted a social media campaign against the man, who told police the dog attacked one of his cats.
Mitchell Weigand shot the dog, a 3-year-old pit mix named Bigsby, the afternoon of June 22, after the dog slipped out of his owner's home, about four houses away. According to Houston Police Department Spokesman Keese Smith, the dog's owner called 911 with an animal cruelty complaint after a postal worker in the area told the owner she had seen Weigand yelling at the dog, who was in Weigand's backyard.
The cat, Zeba, sustained "multiple lacerations and puncture wounds" to her chest, right front leg and abdomen, and also showed swelling and bruising, according to a letter from veterinarian Ben Tharp of Voss Road Animal Hospital, who treated the cat later that day. Tharp's letter, which was provided to the Press by Weigand, also states "Several nails were missing from the right rear paw, and trauma to the tongue and lips. Radiographs showed no severe lung or thoracic damage and abdominal radiographs showed no distinct organ damage, but the cat needs monitoring and therapy for cellulitis/trauma."
The responding officers found tufts of cat hair on the ground and saw that Weigand's cat had patches of hair missing, Smith said.
The officers contacted the Harris County District Attorney's Office, which declined to press charges "due to the fact that the homeowner was defending his property," Smith said.
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The dog's owner, Valerie Swartztrauber, told us that Bigsby — who was wearing a harness and a collar with Swartztrauber's name and phone number on it — was only gone for about ten minutes by the time Weigand shot him. She says the dog had no history of past aggression and was known around the neighborhood as being friendly. She did say that he'd gotten out before, and had gone to Weigand's backyard several times in the past, but she insisted he never attacked an animal or person. (She said she let Bigsby out her back door to pee while she tended to one of her other dogs, who's a senior and wears a diaper. When she went back to the door to let Bigsby in, she discovered he ran off).
Swartztrauber says she quickly noticed that Bigsby had run off, and started driving down the street to check for him, calling his name, when she ran into the postal worker, who told her that she saw a man close a gate on a dog who wandered into his yard and then shoot it. Swartztrauber made sure to get the woman's name and number.
Swartztrauber says she went to the home and found Weigand outside, power-washing his back porch. She says she asked Weigand if he shot Bigsby, and that Weigand said no.
"Is that where you killed my dog?" Swartztrauber says she asked Weigand. She then says Weigand retrieved a trash can from the edge of his driveway and dragged it out of sight to the back of his garage. When he returned, his shirt was bloody, Weigand alleges.
When the police arrived, Weigand initially denied shooting Bigsby to them as well.
Citing the report, Smith said Weigand "said he had initially denied [shooting Bigsby] because he had never done anything like this before and didn't want to get into trouble."
When asked why he lied to police, Weigand told us that he was "over-hyped and traumatized" and was not thinking clearly.
He says he had just opened his gate to pull in his truck when he heard commotion and then saw Bigsby mauling Zeba.
"I don't just shoot dogs because I'm a psychopathic, dog-hating murderer," Weigand told the Press, "….I love all animals, except the ones that are psychotically flipping my cat in the air – ten feet in the air – which I catch, and take out of this dog's jaws, and he growls at me like he's going to bite me, OK? There is no other reason why I shot this dog.” (Weigand, who used to foster cats for an animal rescue group, said he lost five cats in four years to dog attacks).
Weigand added: “I don't care what anybody else says – how loving and caring a pet this dog is – at that moment, that dog was ripping apart my cat and was going to go after me next. So I rescued the cat, ran in the house, and got the gun.”
When asked why he thought the police report only noted the missing tufts of fur but no extensive injuries, Weigand said, "That's all we knew at the time, because the cat had hidden under...the bed in the house and wouldn't come out no matter what....I knew the cat was injured, but didn't know it was that injured. I just thought it was scraped."
But Swartztrauber told the Press the cat did not appear to be injured, and said that the postal worker claimed to have seen Weigand close the door to the gate, penning her dog inside. Swartztrauber says she gave this information to the officers, but the HPD report states that Swartztrauber only said the postal worker claimed to have seen Weigand yell at Bigsby and then shoot at him. There is no mention of the gate being closed to fence Bigsby in.
When told about this discrepancy, Swartztrauber maintained that she did tell the officer that the postal worker claimed to have seen Weigand close the gate. (We asked Swartztrauber for the postal worker's phone number so we could speak directly to her. Swartztrauber said the woman did not want to speak, but was planning to write a statement about what she witnessed, so that Swartztrauber could submit it to the DA's Office. She said she would provide a copy when it's ready).
When asked why she thought the veterinarian's report listed serious injuries, Swartztrauber said, "I wouldn't put it past Weigand to even kill one of his cats to make him in the right....I don't know what to make of that. Or, once he closed my dog in the yard, maybe then he saw a cat and chased it."
The online campaign against Weigand has been pretty vicious, with some commenters accusing him of "luring" Bigsby into his backyard for the express purpose of killing him. Some posted on Weigand's business listing on Yelp, accusing him of being a dog-murderer. (Those posts have since been removed). Others are repeating the claim (which Swartztrauber also told us) that once, roughly 20 years ago, Weigand had threatened to kill a dog they had at the time. Other posts repeat a claim (which Swartztrauber also told us) that Weigand allegedly told a neighbor he had killed dogs in the past.
So, was Weigand waiting two decades in anticipation to kill his neighbor's dog, and did he injure his own cat to back up his story? If so, he's been doing it for a while, as the veterinarian's report states: "This cat is lucky — I have done 3-4 post-mortem exams of his cats that have died from dog mauling in the past 2-3 years."
That postal worker's notarized statement could likely change everything. We'll have to wait and see.
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