The case of Diesel the 2-pound Chihuahua puppy caused quite a ruckus Thursday at the usually tranquil Anoka County courthouse.

The dog died last month and has become the poster pet for a group of 20 protesters who marched and shouted outside the courthouse, some accompanied by their dogs, to vent their anger against Holly Boyd. She is charged in Diesel's death, accused of throwing him against a dresser because he urinated on her leg. The dog's skull was broken in several places and its bowels protruded from its belly, according to a felony animal cruelty charge filed against Boyd last month.

Diesel's death led one of the protesters to start a Facebook page titled "Maximum Penalty for Holly Boyd, Minnesota Puppy Murderer." An online petition has been created to encourage the county attorney to seek the maximum penalty. More than 2,100 people worldwide have signed it since April 5.

Boyd's brief afternoon appearance prompted extra security in the courtroom and a personal escort afterward to shield her from the protesters. Many filled the courtroom, hoping to hear why she allegedly committed such a crime. They were disappointed when the only thing discussed was the setting of an Oct. 3 trial date.

Before the hearing, a tearful Boyd told a reporter that she had not killed the puppy and that the publicity has been excruciating. She bought the dog from a friend four hours before it died.

"This was my dog, I wouldn't hurt it," she told the Star Tribune. "I've been a member of ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] for 12 years."

Boyd, 28, claimed before the hearing that Diesel was killed by a friend of her boyfriend in her Fridley apartment. She said she told investigators that, but they didn't look into it.

The criminal complaint says police came to Boyd's apartment to break up a domestic incident involving her boyfriend. Boyd, who lived with him, said he owned two puppies. Police advised her boyfriend to hang out someplace else until things cooled down. But 45 minutes later, the boyfriend received a disturbing text message from Boyd, the complaint said.

"The dogs killed. It also broke it's neck I think," the text said, according to the charges.

When the boyfriend returned to the apartment, he found Diesel in its bed, limp and bleeding from its ear. Boyd told police she was mad at the puppy because it urinated on her leg and the couch, so she threw it at a dresser in front of her couch, according to the complaint. Police said she showed no remorse when explaining the dog's death. The complaint doesn't mention Boyd telling police that another person killed Diesel.

Animal cruelty charges are unusual in Anoka County, but prosecutors said a man was recently prosecuted for shooting a dog with a crossbow. In St. Paul, a man was convicted in 2008 for throwing a kitten into a wall and received seven months in the workhouse. The penalty for felony animal cruelty is up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

On Thursday in Anoka, protesters lined up on the sidewalk outside the courthouse's main entrance. Holding signs, they chanted for Boyd to get the maximum sentence if convicted. One woman held a sign reading, "Hey Holly, wanna try to throw ME against the dresser?" Another woman held up Boyd's mug shot along with a sign that read: "She gave the puppy the dresser. She should get the chair."

Sheri Jackson, who coordinated the protest, said everyone who participated is involved with an animal rescue organization. Most took time off from work to attend, she said.

"We're not just going to wish something is going to happen to her," she said.

While protesters like Colleen Meyer wondered how someone could have such disregard for life, some who walked by questioned aloud why the group was putting so much energy into the death of a puppy and not problems like child abuse or sexual predators.

"Everybody has their own causes, and others stand up for their cause," Jackson said. "This is ours."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465