Rudolph W. Poppe pleaded guilty Wednesday to hitting his elderly dog over the head with a sledgehammer last summer in the driveway of his home in Savage. He also pleaded guilty to resisting officers’ attempts to arrest him after neighbors called 911.
The dog, Millie, had to be euthanized because of its injuries.
Poppe, who looked older than his 71 years as he sat next to his attorney in the Scott County courtroom, said little. He gave shaky “yes” answers when he was asked if he understood that he was giving up his right to a trial and that prosecutors planned to ask for an aggravated sentence when District Judge Rex Stacey sentences him on Dec. 3.
He pleaded guilty to one count of felony animal cruelty and one gross-misdemeanor count of obstructing the legal process. A second count of animal cruelty and a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge will be dismissed.
Defense attorney Richard Swanson told the court that the plea agreement contained no agreement on the sentencing, but a pre-sentence report compiled by the probation department said the presumptive sentence is a stayed prison term of a year and a day.
Police were called to Poppe’s home shortly after 7:15 p.m. July 12, where they found the 12- or 13-year-old golden retriever with a white plastic bag tied over its head. The dog had a crushed skull and was covered in blood but it was breathing and twice tried to stand up.
A neighbor told police that he saw Poppe hit the dog over the head about 15 times. Officers had to use two sets of handcuffs to restrain him and force him into the squad car.
Poppe said in court that, yes, he had been drinking that day but he wasn’t so drunk that he didn’t understand what he did.
Poppe spent 26 days in jail after his arrest and is free on bail. His wife filed an order for protection that prohibited him from going home. She is now in a nursing home, and Swanson asked the judge to allow Poppe to return home because he has nowhere else to live. Stacey agreed.
About 20 members of Justice 4 Millie, a group that sprang up on Facebook after the incident, were in court Wednesday, as they have been for each of Poppe’s appearances. They plan to be there for the sentencing, too.
“I’m encouraged that the sentence will be a harsh one,” said Melissa Freer, an organizer of the group. “I hope it will be. We’ll be here on the 3rd to make sure it is.”
As Swanson and Poppe left the courtroom, Swanson turned to his client.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” he said.