The lawyer representing a 19-year-old Sarnia man accused of shooting a cat with a pellet gun 17 times says the public needs to allow the court to decide his fate.

Phillip Millar's client is appearing for the first time in Sarnia court Wednesday.

For the past few weeks, a petition asking for the harshest punishment available has been in circulation.

The petition has garnered 10,000 signatures.

About 35 protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Sarnia Wednesday afternoon, including Scott Spinks.

"[We want to] get the court systems and the MPs to get tougher on animal cruelty laws where there is more jail time," said Spinks.

He suggested five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

When asked about violent threats that have been made against the accused, Spinks said it wasn't his "protest team" that was a part of it.

Millar said the public needs to take a step back.

"I'm shocked that people put so much time into this when there are so many injustices going on that require our attention," Millar told CBC News. "But on the other hand, it's understandable."

He said the court needs to decide his client's fate, not the public.

"It is morally repugnant to know that somebody did this to the cat," he said. "Although, let's make sure we know it's the person who did it before we start making death threats.

"Until he's proven guilty, he's innocent," said Millar.

"Animals can't defend themselves," said Spinks. "They have to have someone on their side and that's what we're doing today."

As for Joe the Cat's condition, Donna Pyette, manager of the Sarnia Humane Society said he's doing well.

"He's continuing to improve," she said.