In the video, the dog’s eyes gleam in wide-eyed fright as the belt comes down over and over.

It is a short clip and not easy to follow. The camera pans from the apparent whipping to piles of poop in and around a Timberland work boot. In the background, a young woman can be heard hollering “Stop! No!”

The camera pans back and it appears that the beating continues, the young man swinging the belt at the dog before slapping it on the floor as an exclamation point.

It is all very confusing, and the clip ends shortly after.

The video started circulating on social media over the weekend and by Monday had been viewed and shared by thousands. The teenager who had posted the video was swiftly identified and as fast as you can post an angry face emoji, he was declared Lewiston-Auburn’s public enemy No. 1.

His name was handed over to police and his address listed all over the place. Other suspects believed to have taken part in the atrocity were identified as co-conspirators. Online commenters, disgusted with the treatment of that cringing, terrified dog, began sharing ideas on how the culprits should be punished. Those ideas included curb stomping, hanging, suffocation via dog waste and death by fire.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: If you want to stay safe and sane in this world, never harm a child, an old person or an animal. It wouldn’t hurt to stop posting stupid stuff online, either.

Even as the dog’s whereabouts remained unknown, it was clear a growing army of locals was ready to move mountains to get the animal to safety.

The problem: Although the video seemed to make it pretty clear the dog was beaten for blaspheming a Timberland work boot (those things are icons of importance in prison and on the street, you know), the remaining facts about the ugliness were more elusive.

“Did it happen here in Lewiston or elsewhere?” wondered Lewiston police Lt. David St. Pierre, in response to numerous calls, emails and online demands for justice.

“We have been diligently working on the case and trying to locate the dog in question, as well as a couple of individuals. … The video is certainly of great concern to us, as is the welfare of the dog.”

Police knew the names of those involved. They were investigating those matters as was Animal Control Officer Wendall Strout. So were dozens of online sleuths, who continued to exchange information and to discuss further ways justice might be doled out.

As another day passed, the names of additional locals were offered up as potential suspects. A few more addresses were given. That one teen in particular — the 16-year-old aspiring rap star who had posted the original video on Instagram — was declared the main villain of this ghastly tale, and if angry mobs could truly march across social media, he would have felt the sharp prick of their pitchforks and the blazing heat of their torches.

But nagging questions remained: Was this really the monster who had wielded the belt? Was he the person behind the camera, or was that his voice so coldly narrating the vile deed? Was it his dog? And if so, where was it now?

I contacted the kid in hopes he would shed some light on all these things — perhaps all of the ugliness could be explained in one rational conversation. And for a time, it seemed the young man would talk to me and help to settle these questions. But then he must have taken another look around and seen exactly what he was up against as police circled and that growing online army continued to rage.

“I’ll need to talk to my lawyer first,” he wrote at last, and that was the end of that.

As Monday afternoon turned to Monday night, there was no quieting the furor over the video. Outrage is never quick to subside when it comes to the mistreatment of animals. Some of the liveliest news stories I have seen have involved animals that were beaten, neglected or turned out on a frigid night.

When people rally in support of an abused animal — or a child or an old person — you start seeing the protective side of human nature, and that protective side is fierce, as it sometimes has to be.

By the end of Monday, legions of locals still craved justice for what they had seen in that 10-second video. Mostly, they wanted news about the dog’s well-being.

“It breaks my heart wondering how long she’s been going through this,” said a woman named Anna, who had followed the case from the start.

They got that satisfaction a day later. On Tuesday, police announced they had arrested the teenager whom the the public had identified days earlier as the suspect. His name: Curtis Teague, an 18-year-old who was charged with cruelty to animals. Another teen, this one 16, was also charged.

For what it is worth, Teague has said some details in news reports about the incident were wrong, although he also said he was not at liberty just yet to explain his side.

In any case, the fury over the video would not have subsided anytime soon had police not brought resolution to the case. It’s the way people are designed. You can get away with all sorts of hanky-panky without much fuss, but start picking on a person or creature unable to properly defend itself and you had better tuck and roll, my friend. Symbolically speaking, torches and pitchforks are never far behind.

For some, even though details about the mystery video remained unclear at the start of it, solace could be taken in the fact that so many people became so riled about the treatment of an animal — no matter where that animal happened to be.

“It is amazing how fast everyone came together for her, isn’t it?” mused Anna. “I hope she is a local so we find her and watch her see what a good life is.”

There was satisfaction to be found there, as well. The dog had been found, it was reported Tuesday afternoon. It had been evaluated by a veterinarian and returned to its owner, who police say had no complicity in the events seen on the video.

It wasn’t an entirely happy ending, but it was an ending, and that’s something that cannot be said of all crimes that inflame the passions of the community.

You’ve got to hand it to police for bringing resolution to the case so quickly, no question about it. But you also have to wonder if the social media crowd’s loud, round-the-clock demands for justice contributed to the thorough and ultimately successful investigation. The people who rose up in protest over the treatment of that dog didn’t just blab online like any other day. They got stuff done.

“We are continuing our investigation,” St. Pierre wrote in a police press release, “and would like to thank the public for bringing this matter to our attention.”

Pitchforks and torches, my friends. They look a little different in the days of social media, but the sting of them is still just as sharp.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who knows the pen is mightier than the virtual pitchfork. Email him at [email protected]

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