A Forsyth County prosecutor said a Winston-Salem man tried to drown small animals, set them on fire and cut off their body parts, all while laughing or lamenting how long it took for some of them to die. He made videos of the abuse.
Caleb Daniel Dewald, 20, of Yeaton Glen Drive, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Forsyth Superior Court to 10 counts of felony animal cruelty.
Judge Michael A. Stone of Forsyth Superior Court gave Dewald, who had no prior criminal record, four consecutive suspended sentences of 6 months to 18 months and placed him on supervised probation for 30 months. He also has to complete 48 hours of community service within 180 days, get a mental-health assessment and continue treatment with a therapist. He also has to serve an active jail sentence of four days within the next 30 days, Stone ruled.
Indictments cover a period between 2017 and 2021.
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The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office started investigating after receiving an anonymous tip on June 29, 2021, through Crime Stoppers that Dewald was trapping, torturing and killing small animals and that Dewald was then posting videos on the web. The next day, the sheriff’s office got an email from Kristin Rickman, the Emergency Response Division Manager for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), saying that Dewald had drowned opossums and squirrels, tortured rats and drowned and stoned squirrels. Rickman sent along five videos showing Dewald abusing small animals, according to search warrants in the case.
In one video, Dewald is seen trapping and then drowning a young opossum in a vat of water. He says, “Weirdest cat I ever saw.” Then he says, “Took about two minutes 30 … longer than others,” according to search warrants. The camera focuses on the trapped opossum, which can be seen “in a frantic, struggling panic state.”
Another video shows Dewald filming the drowning of a squirrel that was in a metal animal trap that was then lowered into a vat of water, search warrants said. Dewald is heard saying that he will attempt to skin the squirrel after drowning it and that he had shot a groundhog in the head, describing it as “fun.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Parent said a video shows Dewald using a can of WD-40 oil to soak another squirrel, taking a match and setting the squirrel on fire. At one point, Dewald is shown throwing even more oil onto the squirrel, Parent said.
“During the video, the suspect can be head making the comments, ‘My job here is done,’ ‘As you can see the squirrel is no longer happy,’ and “Boys and girls, this is how you get your food cooked,’” the search warrants said.
Parent said that in all, Dewald filmed seven videos with squirrels, three videos with opossums and four videos showing a captured bird.
Detectives were able to trace a fifth video to when Dewald was a student at N.C. Leadership Academy in Kernersville, where Dewald graduated in 2020.
“Administration advised they remembered Caleb Dewald and stated there were numerous incidents in which Caleb was brought to their attention due to having photographs of animal cruelty,” the search warrants said. “The applicant was told there were images of rats, squirrels and cats being tortured and flayed.”
School administrators confirmed that the voice on the fifth vide was Dewald and told investigators that when Dewald was once searched for drugs and weapons, they found a journal, which contained “drawings and confessions regarding the killing and torturing of different animals.” Because the journal was considered private property, it was returned to Dewald, the search warrants said.
After sheriff’s deputies searched Dewald’s house the first time, they got an audio recording from PETA officials “where Caleb Dewald can be heard bragging that Law Enforcement had seized various flash drives but did not ‘take the right flashdrive (mass storage device)’ with all of his ‘stuff on it.’”
Sheriff’s deputies obtained a second search warrant on Dewald’s house.
Stephen Ball, Dewald’s attorney, said in court that Dewald has been diagnosed with a mental-health illness and has a history of traumatic experiences, including possible abuse, bullying and a chaotic family life that culminated in a contentious separation between his parents.
Don Dewald and Amber Dewald, Caleb Dewald’s parents, told Stone that their son had trouble connecting with other people. Amber Dewald said their separation and an incident where his uncle abandoned him at a movie theater were traumatic for Caleb.
“I am utterly heartbroken,” she said, tearing up. “I honestly thought the struggles he had in high school were over.”
Caleb Dewald apologized in court, saying he has had to deal with the fact that he was torturing small animals but grieved over the death of his dog.
“I’m extremely sorry for what I did to these … innocent animals,” he said. “They suffered in ways they never should.” He promised this would never happen again.
But Stone was disturbed.
“I’ve represented murder defendants who had this history,” he said. “This exacerbates with age.”