06/04/2013 04:10 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Crown wants Vancouver dog killer to spend up to six months behind bars

VANCOUVER - A Vancouver man who admitted to beating his dog and leaving it for dead in a dumpster last year was suffering from paranoia, his lawyers argued during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

Brian Whitlock, 26, pleaded guilty to the Criminal Code charge of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal in April. The charge was laid after Captain, Whitlock's two-year-old German shepherd, was found in a dumpster last July, wrapped in a bloody blanket.

Despite emergency care, the dog died from its extensive injuries the next day, sparking outrage among animal lovers. It also prompted multiple petitions against animal cruelty and even death threats against Whitlock.

But Whitlock's lawyers said their client was suffering from mental illness at the time, and that he had tried to kill Captain because he was convinced the dog had "changed" after eating something off the ground during a walk.

"He characterized Captain as a different dog, that he was 'going evil or something,'" said defence lawyer Tony Paisana. "He was totally different, he was making weird…noises, emitting a different energy."

Paisana said Whitlock told the police and psychiatrists that he believed Captain had been poisoned or cursed, and that he didn't feel safe around the animal. As a result, he decided to "put him out of his misery."

"I should have taken him to the vet, but felt it was my responsibility because he was my dog," Paisana said as he read out Whitlock's statement.

Despite various medical records that indicate Whitlock has been diagnosed with, and was being treated for, psychosis and even schizophrenia at various times over the last year, Crown lawyer Jordan Hauschildt questioned the reliability of Whitlock's self-reporting, saying he has exaggerated his psychotic symptoms to doctors in the past.

Hauschildt also argued that if euthanasia was Whitlock's goal, he could have done it in a more humane way, and that Whitlock does not appear to show any remorse for what he has done to Captain.

The dog suffered from lacerations and massive bruising to its head and body before it died.

"Captain certainly suffered a greater degree of injuries than what would be suggested by three or four strikes with a baseball bat," said Hauschildt. "There were several puncture wounds to the body. Those wounds remain unexplained."

As Hauschildt described Captain's injuries to the court, animal lovers sitting in the public gallery teared up, shook their heads, and buried their faces in their hands.

Meanwhile, Whitlock, who is in custody for other unrelated charges, sat quietly with his eyes downcast at times.

His lawyers told the court that he bought Captain, a former police dog, in March 2012 because he sought companionship. Paisana said Whitlock's mental health had already started to deteriorate before that due to the breakdown of his parents' marriage, his separation from his wife and son, and substance abuse.

By the time Whitlock decided to euthanize Captain, he was having trouble sleeping, acting erratically, and feeling paranoid, Paisana said.

The Crown is asking for four to six months in jail, as well as a three-year probation and a lifetime ban on animal ownership.

But Whitlock's other lawyer, Jeff Campbell, said given that Whitlock had already spent 45 days in custody, further jail time is unnecessary.

His role in Captain's death has also garnered so much media attention and public scrutiny that the stigma is enough to deter him from similar actions in the future, Campbell said.

As a result of Whitlock's mental state, the defence said his sentence should be centred around receiving treatment and supervision in the community.

Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the British Columbia SPCA, said she was satisfied with the Crown's proposed sentence.

"There are arguments around his mental health but I still think the recommendations for Crown between four to six months does take that into consideration," she said.

But Kat Chapman, with the group Justice for Captain, doesn't think the Crown is asking for enough.

"Hearing that there was (Captain's) fur on the bat makes me really sad, and hearing four to six months is what [Whitlock] might get...I didn't expect this at all," said Chapman, tears streaming down her face. "What's that going to do for Captain and what he went through? What's that going to do for future abusers and the people who are abusing animals and getting away with it? They're not getting any time."

The maximum sentence is five years in prison, a $75,000 fine and a lifetime ban on animal ownership. A sentence is expected sometime next week.