New witness backs claims of animal abuse, veterinarian refutes claims

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FREMONT, Neb. (WOWT) - Claims of animal cruelty in Dodge County are still being investigated. A social media post went viral Tuesday when a former employee of a youth group home said their support animal was being abused. Our sister station WOWT 6 News has obtained a letter from the dog’s veterinarian refuting those claims, while a new witness has come forward with abuse allegations.

“They would hit him on the head, super hard, probably about five or six times,” said Hannah Stednitz. Stednitz claims Meelo the two year-old labradoodle was beaten with shoes by kids at the Jefferson House, a shelter for at-risk children.

“It was forceful - like really forceful, I think it was bad. Honestly,” she said. Stednitz, who's now 18, lived at the Jefferson House earlier this year. Stednitz says she witnessed the shoe beatings on several occasions.

“I'd say he's been mistreated at the Jefferson House,” she said.

Stednitz's story backs up some of the accusations made by Joey Bergmanis, a former Jefferson House employee. Bergmanis was fired last week after he reported the alleged abuse to the Dodge County Humane Society. Now he's filed a report with Fremont Police.

“We would never put Meelo in harm. We love Meelo. He's our dog,” said Donna Dostal with the Jefferson House.

Dostal says many of these kids haven't had a pet before, so sometimes their play could be a bit rough.

“They might pull on the dog's ears or pull on his tail or push him because Meelo is a very energetic dog,” said Dostal. “Those are things that we expect. And Meelo expects it. He knows it. He's trained to take it.

Dostal is adamant that Meelo has not been abused. And she says this letter from his veterinarian proves it, where the vet says he "found no evidence at this time that would suggest any abuse had occurred recently or in the past."

The original accuser in this case, Joey Bergmanis claims Meelo wasn’t just beaten, but also fed harmful table food and sexually abused.

Our sister station WOWT 6 New spoke to the Fremont Police officer in charge of this case. He said proving any of this will be difficult because the alleged incidents happened at least several months ago and because anything that can be proven might not meet Nebraska’s legal definition of animal cruelty.