Hundreds of attendees gather to hold a candlelight vigil at Grant Park in Utica Feb. 10 to honor Sterling, a dog who was killed and found dead at the park in January, and to raise awareness of animal abuse.

Hundreds of attendees gather to hold a candlelight vigil at Grant Park in Utica Feb. 10 to honor Sterling, a dog who was killed and found dead at the park in January, and to raise awareness of animal abuse.

Photo by Sean Work

Animal lovers unite to raise awareness of animal abuse

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 11, 2019


UTICA —  The Utica community and many animal lovers from other communities came together for a candlelight vigil Feb. 10 at Grant Park in Utica after a recent tragedy at the park.

After members of the city heard about Sterling, a dog who was stabbed to death and left in the park in January, they jumped into action to get their voices heard to prevent animal abuse.

Their voices have been heard by thousands, including many all over the world through a social media group in support of the cause.

Sterling, a pit bull, reportedly had to leave a safe and happy home because his breed was not allowed where his owner, who was fostering him, lived. When he was returned to the Michigan Humane Society, he was adopted by a friend of a man who had wanted to adopt Sterling but was denied, and Sterling was then given to the man who was denied. That man is now charged with killing/torturing an animal, a felony with a possible sentence of four years in prison, for Sterling’s death. According to a press release from the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, the man accused of killing Sterling reportedly admitted to “hitting and punching Sterling on numerous occasions in the short time that Sterling lived with him, stating he used the physical abuse as a means of discipline.”

Residents from Mount Clemens, Shelby Township, Utica and more came to the park despite harsh winter weather to support Sterling and a change to animal abuse laws in Michigan.

“I think the gathering is huge. I think it’s powerful, and hopefully there will be some change. I think it’s bringing attention to (what happened),” said Kalisha Barnhart, of Sterling Heights.

Hundreds of people attended, and memorials and candles were placed at the park in honor of the dog.

The mayor, Utica City Council members and the director of the Humane Society of Macomb also attended the vigil.

“I am excited to see the numbers that are out here in support of Sterling tonight, and I think you guys know that I’m a testament to the fact those kinds of numbers make change. I’m real proud of the changes that we have made at the Humane Society of Macomb. We all came out to show support tonight for Sterling and some things we may be able to do. We can’t bring back Sterling, but what we can do is be mindful of the other Sterlings in this community — show the community we are serious about these kind of situations.” said Ken Kempkens, the director of the Humane Society of Macomb.

“Tell our lawmakers in Lansing that enough is enough and it’s time we do something that starts to make some change. You get a lot more done by being respectful, nonviolent, and I can tell you those are the voices I heard first when we made the changes at the Humane Society of Macomb,” Kempkens said.

He said he spoke with officials from the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, and they have a good system they are working on to prevent what happened to Sterling from happening again. And he hopes there won’t be any other incidents like what happened to Sterling.

He also said they are hoping to make a law called “Sterling’s Law,” but there were no specifics yet.

Mayor Thom Dionne said that there will be a fundraiser and dog adoption day June 29 called Bark in the Park at Grant Park to help raise funds for animal cruelty awareness, with the benefactor being the Humane Society of Macomb. From that event, funds raised will also help create a memorial that will represent all victims of animal cruelty.

“I’m involved because I think this event is an excellent way for our community to unite against violence and hatred. Our neighbors and friends from outside of Utica are rallying together peacefully and protesting the senseless acts of violence we’ve experienced recently,” Utica City Councilman Gus Calandrino said via email before the event.

“As a member of City Council, I want to listen to the attendees and work with our residents to find ways to make our neighborhoods and parks as safe as possible. Utica is a wonderful city, and together we can make it even better.

“The Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council will work with the members of the community to ensure we do something that is meaningful, respectful and reflects the true beauty of Utica,” said Calandrino.

Many people said they would be at the Feb. 11 court hearing for Alexander Gerth, 22, of Utica, who is accused of killing Sterling. The hearing took place after the Shelby-Utica News went to press.

Barb Buffa, of Shelby Township, helped organize the gathering and raised support. She also started a social media group.

“I started one of the groups last Friday when I heard the information, and then we linked our groups, and between her (Rose Adkins) and our admins, it’s just been amazing the people who stepped up to organize this. It was overwhelming,” said Buffa. “It was amazing and I think that any officials that catch this on the news, I think they’re going to realize they are going to have a force to be reckoned with.”

Rose Adkins, of Utica, was a big part of organizing the gathering and was happy with the turnout in honor of Sterling.

“I am so happy how it turned out, and even though we were getting snow, everybody showed up, we had a big crowd, it went well, and I’m proud of everybody that came here, and I want to thank them. We want Sterling’s Law. Sterling is looking down at us and he is saying, ‘Stop this from happening again. Do what you can,’” said Adkins.