An eastern Pennsylvania man doused three pet ferrets in gasoline and set them on fire, police say, a horrific act of cruelty that his wife of nearly 30 years said was completely out of character for him and that she is struggling to understand.
William Dickerson, 63, of Palmer Township, Northampton County, was arraigned Friday on charges of cruelty to animals, arson and other offenses.
Police said Cynthia Dickerson called 911 on Aug. 5 and reported that her husband had poured gas on the animals in their wire cage and set them ablaze. She reported her husband was drunk at the time.
“This is so completely out of character, off the wall, unbelievable, that I can’t grasp this. And I’m pretty sure he can’t quite grasp what happened,” Cynthia Dickerson said Friday. “It’s a tragic mess.”
Dickerson is free after posting $10,000 bail. He is prohibited from living at the home, or having any contact with his wife. He could not be located for comment. Cynthia Dickerson, 58, said her husband is a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and he’d just gone through the death of his mother “and sundry other things.” He has struggled with anger and alcohol, she said.
“I’m not giving an excuse, because there is no excuse for behavior like that, to do that to God’s little creatures, defenseless little creatures,” she said. “I am trying desperately to understand.”
The retired carpenter and millwright is an animal lover himself, she said. The couple has four cats and two dogs.
“They’re my babies, and they’re his babies, and this is a guy, who ever saw anybody hurting an animal, would step in immediately,” she said.
Her husband is in counseling “to try to figure out what happened and try to prevent anything like this from ever occurring again,” Dickerson said, adding the episode “scares the living hell out of me.”
One silver lining is that all three ferrets, two females and a male, are expected to survive. The male was most seriously burned, already losing its tail and, likely, part of a leg. The couple had been watching the ferrets for a niece.
“God almighty, the will to live that these critters have is absolutely amazing,” Dickerson said.