SALT LAKE CITY -- A former rural Utah town councilman was charged Thursday with a felony count of torturing a companion animal after he was arrested earlier this month for investigation of shooting his neighbor's dog.
Duchesne County prosecutors filed the third-degree felony charge against Rickey E. Wilberg, 58, of Tabiona. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of intoxication.
Wilberg made an initial court appearance Thursday. In a telephone call with The Associated Press, he declined comment and said he was trying to hire an attorney.
Wilberg initially faced a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge but could spend up to five years in Utah State Prison if convicted of the felony. It wasn't immediately clear why Deputy County Attorney Grant Charles had bumped up the charge, and a message for him wasn't returned.
Prosecutors contend Wilberg shot and killed "Rocky," a 9-month-old Chihuahua, with a .22-caliber rifle on May 13. The dog was being trained to be a companion for an elderly person, owner Peggy Redmiles told the AP.
Redmiles, who shares a back fence with Wilberg, said she and her son found the dog in the yard with a bullet hole through its throat. The dog, one of four in the home, usually stays indoors but was left outside while Redmiles took material to a nearby dump.
Two days before the shooting, Redmiles said, Wilberg left a message on her answering machine with a complaint about her dogs.
"Peggy, this is Rick. We've had three complaints from the neighborhood," a man said on the message played by Redmiles for the AP. "They want you to shut up your yapping dogs."
Redmiles said she had heard no other complaints from neighbors. She said she would have immediately taken care of any problem if Wilberg had called police or animal control officers and asked them to address the problem.
"I'm devastated that my dog is gone," said Redmiles, who works in local schools.
Earlier this week, Wilberg resigned his post on the Tabiona Town Council in a letter to Mayor Ronnie Giles. Wilberg was halfway through his second four-year term. The council has 30 days to appoint a replacement.
A hearing was set for July 7 in 8th District Court, about 114 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.