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Friedens man charged with shooting dog in front of owner

August 2, 2018

A Friedens man was charged Wednesday with fatally shooting a family member’s dog in an apparent act of revenge.

Stephen Michael Zellem, 57, told state police that he was at his mother’s house along Zellem Lane Saturday afternoon when the dog entered the yard and killed his mother’s cat.

Zellem told police he traveled to his residence along Listie Road and grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun.

He returned to another residence along Zellem Lane, a short distance from his mother’s home, and fired three rounds of buckshot at the dog while it was in the victim’s yard, state police said.

He then returned to his mother’s residence.

“Upon further investigation of this incident, it was determined that Zellem discharged the firearm within close proximity of the victim as the victim was cutting grass near the dog,” Trooper Zachary Bell wrote in a probable-cause affidavit.

The dog, named Ava, was transported to Animal Medical Center in Somerset, where she was euthanized because of traumatic injuries, according to police. Police identified the victim as Linda Marie Zellem.

Stephen Zellem was arraigned Wednesday before District Judge Ken Johnson of Somerset on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals causing death, a third-degree felony, recklessly endangering another person, a second-degree misdemeanor, and criminal mischief, a summary count. He is free on a $20,000 unsecured bond.

Zellem was ordered not to contact the alleged victim or go within a set distance of the property where the dog was shot as conditions of his bond.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. Aug. 21 before Johnson. No defense attorney for Zellem is listed on an online court docket.

A petition has been started on Change.org asking prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty allowed by state law for animal cruelty. The petition is addressed to Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser. The petition had attracted more than 2,100 signatures as of Wednesday evening.

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