Man gets rare felony after beating puppy to ‘hold his partner captive,’ Genesee County sheriff says

Animal abuse caught on hidden surveillance camera, officials say

Eric Robert Savela is accused in a February 2023 animal abuse case in Genesee County. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

GENESEE COUNTY, Mich. – A man has been charged with a rare felony after he was caught on a hidden video camera viciously beating a puppy in order to force his partner of eight years to give him what he wanted, according to the Genesee County sheriff.

Sheriff Chris Swanson held a briefing Tuesday (Feb. 21) to announce charges against Eric Robert Savela, 36, who lives in Genesee County with his 37-year-old partner, authorities said.

History of physical abuse

Swanson said Savela has a history of being abusive toward the woman.

“The entire relationship has been an eight-year relationship that has been filled with domestic violence for nearly the entire eight years, dating back to 2016,” Swanson said.

Eric Robert Savela (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

Savela has been living in mid-Genesee County with the woman, their 7-month-old child, and three German Shepherds, according to officials.

Swanson said throughout the course of their relationship, Savela has beaten the woman to the point she had black eyes, thrown her clothes in the washing machine with bleach, tossed her personal records in the garbage with coffee grounds, and placed her toothbrushes in the toilet.

Move to Genesee County

In March 2022, Savela physically assaulted the woman while they were staying in Livingston County, Swanson said. She was pregnant at the time.

A judge issued a personal protection order against Savela and ordered him not to have contact with the woman, but the two moved to Genesee County shortly afterward, according to authorities.

“People in a domestic violence situation are many times held captive -- not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, personally,” Swanson said. “We found, in this case, that all that happened.”

After the personal protection order had been issued, Savela shifted his target from the woman to their dogs, specifically a 1-year-old German Shepherd named Pluto, officials said.

Animal abuse caught on hidden camera

Earlier this month (February 2023), the woman said there was a violent incident that became so aggressive, she placed a surveillance camera in the house. That camera captured video of Savela threatening to harm the dogs.

“You’re going to hear (Savela) say, ‘I’m going to zip-tie his (expletive) legs together. I’m going to start whipping his (expletive),’” Swanson said of the video.

Swanson said Savela would typically use a rope or a belt as weapons against Pluto.

A rope and a belt used to physically abuse animals in February 2023 in Genesee County. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

A second video showed Savela violently swinging a belt against something below the camera’s line of sight. A dog can be heard whimpering and yelping.

“The purpose of that beating, in the suspect’s mind, was because Pluto chewed up two pictures,” Swanson said. “That’s it: chewed up two pictures. It’s a puppy.

“There’s a big difference between discipline and beating, and torturing. In fact, the rope that you saw, our investigation shows, not in this case, that that rope was most likely used in hog tying Pluto on the front and back legs, and then (he was) thrown into a closet for three hours.”

Video shows Eric Robert Savela beating a dog in Genesee County, police said. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

Man arrested, charged with rare felony

The video of Savela’s abuse was delivered to Animal Control officials on Feb. 3, according to authorities. Those officials contacted the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, and Savela was taken into custody shortly afterward.

Swanson said Savela was charged by Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton’s office with a rare felony: first-degree torturing of a domestic animal with the intent to threaten, coerce, or control a victim.

“There’s an actual felony -- it’s a 10-year -- that involves using and coercing individuals, holding them almost captive in a spot where they have no place to move by the threats that you make against companion animals,” Swanson said.

Savela is also facing a misdemeanor animal abuse charge, with carries a sentence of 93 days in jail.

He was given a $25,000 cash bond, which he posted, Swanson said.

“When he bonded out, he went down to Livingston County and committed another crime, a nonviolent crime, against the victim,” Swanson said.

Officials said Savela’s criminal history also includes petty theft as a juvenile.

Domestic violence victim

Swanson said the 37-year-old woman is safe with her child, Pluto, and the other two dogs, Chief and Juno.

Pluto, a 1-year-old German Shepherd. (Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

He encouraged anyone aware of any domestic violence to call police before the situation escalates. He said he has researched the link between cases of pet abuse and other forms of violence.

“When you look at young kids who are in the household and you see other cases around the state that show animals being beaten and they’re yelping and whimpering, and kids are watching this, you can’t tell me there’s not even a psychological connection,” Swanson said.

You can watch Swanson’s full briefing below. NOTE: the explicit videos have been removed.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.