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Lillian Schrock, The Des Moines Register

DES MOINES, Iowa -- When Joshua VanDyke arrived home Saturday, he found his girlfriend very upset and one of their dogs, Lillie, barking inside the garage.

Shortly after VanDyke arrived, police say Sheena Ann Cornwell, 28, entered the garage where Lillie was being held, and used the pit bull terrier mix's collar and leash to hang and kill it. She is charged with one count of animal torture.

After coming home from his job as a restaurant manager, VanDyke said, he saw Cornwell enter the garage with the dog's collar.

"(Sheena) had complained about the dog before, but she never abused her," VanDyke said. "She wanted to get rid of her, but she never said anything about doing something violent to her."

Speaking for the first time Sunday, VanDyke told The Des Moines Register that he and Cornwell are no longer together and he is requesting a no-contact order.

"She was a self-proclaimed animal lover. It was all she talked about, how much she loved animals," he said.

VanDyke said the couple owned ferrets, reptiles, turtles, fish and three dogs: Oliver, Mr. Tinker Train, and Lillie. The couple had been in a relationship for a little longer than four years and lived together.

He said Lillie was not a problem animal but the 15-year-old dog did have medical issues.

"Lillie had lost some weight, but she was still playful," he said. "I came home on Friday, and Sheena was playing in the backyard with all three dogs, throwing a ball for them."

But Cornwell would sometimes say Lillie, whom Cornwell rescued four years ago, was ruining her life, VanDyke said.

"Sheena put Lillie in the garage sometimes so she didn't have to listen to her bark," VanDyke said. "... I told her she could call the Animal Rescue League and they would take the dog for free, but she didn't listen."

After Cornwell came into the couple's home Saturday after being in the garage, "she wouldn't talk to me," VanDyke said.

He said from inside the house they could hear the dog barking, and Cornwell asked him angrily, "Is that Lillie?"

According to a police report, Cornwell then returned to the garage. She reportedly emerged approximately 10 minutes later and allegedly told VanDyke, "She's dead, I killed her."

After being told the dog was dead, VanDyke said, he went into the garage and saw the dog hanging by its collar and leash from a rafter. He called police.

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. I've never seen or experienced anything like that," he said.

Cornwell reportedly told officers Lillie had been annoying her and the other dogs, and Lillie reportedly tried to bite her as Cornwell was hanging her.

Police said Cornwell, a home health care aide, was under the influence of alcohol when she was taken into custody.

"She did not appear to be remorseful. She said she saw nothing wrong with her actions," Des Moines Police Officer Greg Catron said. "She didn't think there was anything wrong with the way she put this dog to death."

"This is the first time I've seen a dog strung up like that. The dog deserved better than that."

When reached for comment Sunday, Cornwell refused to speak to a Register reporter.

A search of online court records showed no animal-related criminal charges in Cornwell's past. She was convicted in 2006 of operating while intoxicated and in 2008 of a disorderly house violation.

The dog's body will be sent to Iowa State University for a necropsy.

"I expect they will find that the dog died by asphyxiation according to the suspect's statements," Halifax said.

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