A Bastrop couple, whose cat may have been thrown from a 50-foot bridge, has launched a petition drive against Bastrop Christian Church Pastor Rick Bartlett. The Bell family wants to keep pressure on police and prosecutors to charge Pastor Bartlett with felony animal abuse.
“If Rick Bartett is proven guilty of this crime, we want him to get the maximum punishment and not just a fine,” said Moody’s owner Sarah Bell.
The pastor was arrested and charged last week with cruelty to animals. Investigators say he trapped his neighbor’s cat, named Moody, in a cage after it strayed into his yard. Moody later fell or was thrown off the Highway 150 bridge and down onto the banks of the Colorado River.
Rev. Bartlett is a well connected civic leader in the Bastrop community. He is also a volunteer chaplain for the Bastrop Police Department. Chief Michael Blake told The Digital Texan that Bartlett was still a part of the chaplain program, but not actively involved at this time. “He has kind of removed himself from that until we’ve determined the status of that case,” Chief Blake said. “We will evaluate that should he be convicted of that crime.”
Moody was found on January 17 under the Loop 150 Bridge in Bastrop. According to the veterinarian’s report, Moody died of “compressive force cause from falling from a high level.”
Moody had last been seen in the custody of Bartlett.
In a statement to police, Bartlett said that he had trapped the cat on Martin Luther King Day. Animal Control was closed, so he left Moody in the trap. The police affidavit says that “Bartlett stated he forgot about the cat until he was putting the trash can back inside the garage. Bartlett did not say he attempted to feed or water the cat.”
On Tuesday morning, Bartlett admits that he left for work and forgot about Moody until later that afternoon. At that point the cat had not had food or water in 24-hours.
That Tuesday afternoon, Bartlett took Moody to Animal Control and met with Officer Susan Keys in the parking lot of the Bastrop Police Department. Noticing that Moody wore a collar with tags, Keys informed Bartlett that she would return the cat to its family, three houses down from Bartlett’s residence. Bartlett volunteered to return the cat instead. The police affidavit notes that “Animal Officer Keys was never given any indication that he would release the cat anywhere besides his neighborhood”.
Bartlett then put Moody’s cage in the back of his pickup and left. Keys reportedly later told the Bells that she trusted Bartlett because he served as a volunteer chaplain for the Bastrop Police Department.
The next statements Barltett gave police are somewhat strange. According to the affidavit, “Bartlett then stated he was extremely stressed and angry because of personal issues and feeling that no one was taking responsibility for the cat. Therefore, he untied the bungee cord the cage was attached to and opened the door to the cage and drove off with the intentions of the cat jumping out of the vehicle while he was driving off.”
Did Moody jump off the bridge himself, or did the pastor throw him off?
“Obviously there was no problem with the animal when the Animal Control Officer saw that animal, or the Animal Control Officer would have insisted on taking custody of it and taking it to the vet. Up to that point nothing criminal had gone on,” said District Attorney Bryan Goertz.
“The papers, the media, their account of this fact pattern is painfully obvious there’s a huge abyss that no one knows what happened to that cat.”
While the Bell family wants Bartlett’s charges escalated to a felony, Goertz says that probably won’t happen since there were no witnesses. The crime Bartlett is charged with is a misdemeanor.
Goertz also told The Digital Texan that the Bells were technically in violation of the law by allowing Moody to stray into Bartlett’s yard.
“This cat and its owner were clearly in violation of that ordinance,” Goetz said.
The Bell family has been devastated by the whole ordeal.
Sara Bell describes Moody, as “a fat cat” who reminded her of Garfield. She rescued him in 2002 when she found him wandering, stray and malnourished, on her way to work at a vet clinic.
“I wasn’t going to be his home, but I just fell in love with him,” she said. Moody’s sweet disposition made many people fall in love with him.”
“He (Bartlett) could have just called us, or walked three houses down and said something to us. Honestly, I expected after this happened for any decent person just to come over or call and say ‘I’m so sorry,’ but nothing.”