Woman sobs as she describes poisoning of her dog during first day of Portage trial

February 6, 2019

Ali Reigstad sobbed as she recalled the moment her dog, Gander, had its first seizure after eating meat laced with rat poison.

She wiped her eyes as she described watching her golden retriever lose control of its bladder and shake in bed, its eyes dilated.

She and Tim Rittmeyer, whom she had dated for nearly 10 years since they were in high school, took the dog they shared to the vet for multiple emergency visits. Gander was euthanized two days later.

“He just laid there,” she said, recalling Gander’s final moments.

Reigstad spoke about the death of her dog nearly four years ago in Arlington during the first day of a jury trial Tuesday for Trent L. Hebel, 30, of Poynette, who is charged with felony stalking and fatally poisoning his ex-girlfriend’s dog on May 1, 2015.

Reigstad told the jury she broke off her previous relationship with Rittmeyer in January 2015, and they agreed Rittmeyer would keep Gander, but Reigstad could visit. Upon breaking up with Rittmeyer, Reigstad dated Hebel for three months. She said she broke up with him on April 26, 2015.

Reigstad said while she and Hebel were dating, he became jealous of the dog and Rittmeyer. She told Hebel the only reason she still talked to her former boyfriend was because of her dog.

From the witness stand Tuesday, Rittmeyer said he found two plastic containers with meat and rat poison outside his house while mowing his lawn. He contacted Hebel to ask if he left the poisoned meat out for Gander to find. Rittmeyer said Hebel told him he had better things to do.

Rittmeyer said he called Reigstad over to check on Gander’s condition.

“He was lethargic,” Rittmeyer said. “He could barely stand; he could barely walk.”

In his opening statements, Madison defense attorney Jonas Bednarek didn’t dispute that the dog had been poisoned. However, he questioned how a critical piece of evidence against Hebel, a Tupperware container with fingerprints on it that supposedly tied Hebel to the crime, had accidentally been discarded at an Iowa crime lab.

“This case is absolutely about poison,” Bednarek said in his opening statements.

He said the state intended to poison jurors’ minds against Hebel.

“The one piece of evidence they had that had Mr. Hebel’s fingerprints on it, they tossed it in the garbage,” Bednarek said.

He said investigators jumped to accuse Hebel without examining a number of alternatives.

Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long told the jury she would bring in expert witnesses to testify that Hebel was responsible for causing the dog’s death.

Long said Hebel sent text messages to the dog’s owners that led them to believe he was responsible and fear for their safety. She added that a medical expert who conducted an autopsy on the deceased dog found indications of poison.

Bednarek asked Rittmeyer whether he suspected his father’s ex-girlfriend might have played a role in Gander’s death. Rittmeyer said he initially suspected that because she and his dad had been fighting, but he then began to suspect Hebel instead.

Bednarek said Reigstad’s phone records showed she and Hebel continued to communicate from April 27 until April 30, after she said she had broken up with him.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday and Thursday.

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