The protesters called it murder. The prosecutor called it felony animal cruelty. But Rudolph Poppe’s defense attorney said his 71-year-old client was just trying to put his elderly golden retriever out of his misery when he repeatedly hit it over the head with a ­sledgehammer.

Poppe, of Savage, who has been jailed for eight days, made his first appearance Friday morning before Scott County District Judge Christian Wilton in Shakopee. More than three dozen protesters carried signs demanding “Justice for Millie” outside the courthouse and filed neatly into the courtroom for the hearing.

Poppe is charged with two counts of felony animal cruelty, obstructing the legal process and disorderly conduct.

According to the criminal complaint, police were called to Poppe’s home shortly after 7:15 p.m. July 12. There they found the dog 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 while an officer waited with it for a rescue group to arrive and take it to the vet. The dog was euthanized about 8:40 that night.

Poppe, who apparently had been drinking, resisted arrest, refusing officers’ commands to put his hands behind his back and get down on the ground. Officers had to use two sets of handcuffs to restrain him and force him into a squad car, the complaint said.

Poppe’s neighbor told police that he saw Poppe hit the dog over the head with the large hammer about 15 times and saw the dog’s head split open. The neighbor said that he and others at the scene — including children — pleaded with Poppe to let them take the dog to the vet to be euthanized and that he “did not have to do it this way,” the complaint said.

“Defendant said he had to put his dog out of its misery,” the complaint said.

After he was arrested, Poppe told police that his dog was old, could barely walk and pooped on the floor. He said he didn’t know how many times he hit it “but he then put the plastic bag over the dog’s head to try to finish killing it,” the complaint said.

He didn’t say anything when police asked him why he didn’t take the dog to the vet to be put down.

Poppe’s other dog was seized from his home.

In court Friday, Poppe’s attorney, Richard Swanson, asked Wilton to lower bail from $40,000 bond or $5,000 cash. Swanson pointed out that Poppe is 71 and has no history of similar actions.

“I’m not going to go into what was done,” Swanson told the judge, “but it was his dog. He’s not only lost his yellow lab, he’s apparently lost his wife, too.”

Poppe’s wife has filed an order for protection that prohibits the defendant from going to his home. He also was ordered not to drink or have any alcohol and not to have any dogs.

Swanson said he has “heard through the grapevine” that there had been threats on Poppe’s life, which he said was “more egregious than what my client has supposedly done.

“I understand how people can be upset … but it’s not a person, a human being, that this happened to,” the defense attorney said.

The judge refused to lower Poppe’s bail, which pleased Emily Randolph and other protesters at the courthouse Friday.

The protesters were organized through Facebook, initially through Second Chance Animal Rescue’s page and later through Justice 4 Millie.

“We’re out here pretty much to be the voice for Millie,” said Randolph, of Shakopee, a volunteer for 4 Paws. “We want to ensure that he’s getting punished to the full extent of the law.”

Poppe’s next court hearing is Aug. 8.