SOUTH PORTLAND — Two teenage girls have been charged with animal cruelty after they reportedly put a cat in a microwave oven last week and then posted a video of the incident online.
South Portland police launched an investigation after the short video was posted Thursday on Twitter, a personal micro-blogging website.
“We got all kinds of tips. Anonymous tips on our phone line, tips on our Facebook,” said Lt. Frank Clark. “A lot of people were pretty upset by this.”
The ensuing investigation led police to issue summonses Monday to a pair of 15-year-old South Portland High School students. Their names are not being released because they are juveniles.
Attempts to reach South Portland High administrators late Monday afternoon were unsuccessful. An office assistant said both the principal and vice principal had left for the day.
Clark said the case is still under investigation and will be referred to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office for “review and consideration of the appropriate juvenile charges.”
“We want to say thank you to those who reported this matter to the department and would ask for the public’s patience in letting the system do its job,” he said in a news release.
For adults, animal cruelty can either be a civil violation, punishable by a fine, or a Class D crime punishable by up to a year in jail. If an animal dies or is subject to extreme torture, the crime could be upgraded to a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
The video, which has been taken off Twitter but can still be found elsewhere online, is less than 10 seconds long. It shows a girl with blond hair place the animal in the microwave, close the door and push a button. The microwave’s interior light goes on, indicating the oven is in use.
The video then shows another girl with brown hair enter the frame, open the door and remove the cat.
The animal, according to Clark, did not appear to have been injured, but its owners, who were not identified, agreed to turn the feline over to the city’s animal control officer.
Clark said late Monday that the cat is now at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook.
Lynne McGhee, community relations manager for the shelter, said the 8-week old female — renamed “Miracle” by the staff — is doing well and is scheduled to be evaluated by a veterinarian Tuesday.
“Hopefully by next week, she’ll be available for adoption,” McGhee said.
Most of the animals that end up at the Westbrook shelter are victims of neglect or are malnourished, but some are abused more seriously.
McGhee said this case is a great opportunity to educate young people about their online habits.
“I’m sure this was a way for them to joke around and try to be silly but they put this animal in danger,” she said.
John Bott, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which oversees the state animal welfare office, said his office is aware of the incident but had not been contacted.
He said the state office receives between 500 and 600 complaints of animal cruelty every year, the majority of which involve cats or dogs. That does not include calls that are made directly to local animal control officers.
Bott said his office does not have a searchable database, but he said he could not remember a case like this in recent years.
In November 2010 in Pennsylvania, two teenage boys put a kitten in a microwave and then threw the microwave out a window. The cat survived. The boys were charged with animal cruelty.
Last year in England, a mentally disturbed 19-year-old man was convicted of microwaving a cat to death. He was sentenced to 22 weeks in prison.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: