Trigger Warning! This post will be very difficult for some people to read. It’s a gruesome and horrifying story, but sadly, it’s a factual account of a very real situation in Russell County, Virginia. The two county employees named in the McAfee Document and in this post are still employed as Animal Control Officers in that county, in contact with animals and children daily. This matter has been referred to the State Veterinarian's office in Richmond, the State Police, Michelle Welch with the State Attorney General’s office, as well as reported to every major animal welfare organization in the U.S. I personally have had a lengthy phone conversation with Matthew Gray, Virginia HSUS representative, and I spoke with Michelle Welch via email. The following is a direct quote from that email.
(ME) How is it possible that neither the state police nor the CWA in [Russell] county will take action about this? It appears that if local prosecutors fail to pursue justice on a matter, there is no recourse despite the heinous nature of the crime. There simply is no agency in Virginia with authority to override that decision. Correct? If so, is that because of Virginia's structure as a Commonwealth, or is the same true in every U.S. state?
(MICHELLE WELCH) That is correct… criminal prosecutions can be initiated by and conducted through the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in each Virginia locality on behalf of that locality’s citizens. These offices are established in Article 7, Part 4 of the Constitution of Virginia. The duties and authority of Commonwealth’s Attorneys are outlined in Virginia Code § 15.2-1627. The ALU was formed to assist prosecutors in animal abuse cases, but the authority to take action in those cases remains vested in the local elected prosecutor. This is true in most states.. the locality has the vested authority.
While intentions may be good, I ask that people refrain from making suggestions in the comments about what we should do and who we should contact. If you have a connection to someone you believe can help, please refer them to this post and let them decide if they can take some kind of action. We have exhausted all our own resources. Eileen McAfee and Virginians for Change to Animal Legislation, as well as myself, have taken this matter to the highest authorities in the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as all the lobbyist groups like ASPCA, HSUS, and PETA. Nathan Winograd with the No Kill Advocacy Center posted about this atrocity on social media to thousands of followers. We have protested with picket signs, flooded county meetings, and shut down county administrative offices with phone calls and emails, all to no avail. Russell County is simply under no obligation to respond, and they know it.
It’s also important for Steemit readers to understand that communities local to this incident have little interest in taking a stand. Some residents don’t care. Others are fearful of retaliation. I can assure you the fear is not misplaced. The Mountain Mafia is real. My own Wordpress blog was hacked a while back and all files from the database deleted. I’m certain that the goal was to wipe all traces of this story from the Web. That’s when I learned about the blockchain and came to Steemit.
In the time since the McAfee Report was published, Russell County has allowed a team of volunteers to run the animal shelter and they have effectively reduced its kill rate to nearly zero. This accomplishment is not lost on me. It is indeed a triumph. However, the fact that Odell and Chris Musick were never held accountable legally or civilly for their actions and are still employed in Russell County on taxpayer dime is utterly indefensible. There is nothing left to do now except shine as much light on this corruption as possible, in the hopes that persistent pressure from the public will force more accountability in local governments that operate above the law.
Both Chris and Odell would kick and stomp on dogs in their kennels if they barked too much. They kicked them all over—on their legs, in their stomach, and in their ribs. They kicked them so hard it knocked the breath out of them and caused injuries…the dogs would yelp and then cry like they were hurt. Some would limp afterward. Some dogs were so badly injured from being kicked they would bleed from their mouth and nose.
The quote above is from a document published by Eileen McAfee. She has been investigating abuse in taxpayer-funded shelters for much of her life. WRIC reporter Kristen Smith interviewed her in this news report last year about the Russell County Animal Shelter. Most of the quotes I will use in this post will be from McAfee’s document. As brutal a story as it tells, I encourage everyone to follow the link below and read it in its entirety. It provides eye-opening details about torture and abuse of homeless and stray animals that should never occur in a developed country—yet the animal control officers who admitted guilt to many of the charges against them are still employed by Russell County as Animal Control Officers in direct contact with animals and children daily.
No-Kill Advocates across the nation report great success in many areas with achieving no-kill, or very low kill rates even in areas with astronomical numbers of strays. Much discussion happens among those groups about the remaining “barriers to no-kill,” and what prevents shelters in regions like Southwest Virginia from achieving the same goal.
Over the years I’ve operated this rescue, I’ve reached out to the ASPCA, Best Friends Network, Target Zero, and the HSUS—the big players in U.S. animal welfare. None have been willing to get involved. Target Zero did more than any other group. They sent representatives to this area with an offer of assistance to our local shelter. This offer was rejected, and Target Zero will not work with private rescues like mine. Which leads us to the heart of this post: the No-Kill movement assumes that all municipal shelter management would be open to ideas about how to end the senseless destruction of innocent American pets. What do you do with an area that places no value on either the ethical or practical benefits of reducing shelter kill rates? Answer that question, and you've identified the last barriers to no-kill.
SOME SHOCKING FACTS
The Russell County Animal Shelter was, in 2015, the highest-kill municipal shelter in Virginia, with a kill rate of 53%, according to a chart published by Fairfax County Animal Advocates. It sits squarely in the “Pocket Of Shame,” a geographical grouping of Virginia’s highest kill (and ostensibly, most poorly run) shelters in the Commonwealth. This is suggestive of a regional problem, a problem that for years has been brought to the attention of every major animal welfare organization in the state and the nation. This is not just a numbers game, not just a ratio of intake per capita, although that is one element. This is a glaring, flashing, screaming red flag of administrative malfeasance in the governing bodies of these municipalities, and the information being uncovered about the Russell County Animal Shelter works to underscore this premise with each horrific detail that emerges.
Operation Big Coon Dog is, according to Wikipedia, an “investigation by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into alleged corruption surrounding the use of federal and state disaster recovery funds by public officials in Buchanan County, Virginia, United States following severe flooding in the town of Hurley in May 2002. The investigation resulted in the criminal conviction of sixteen people, including several public officials and other government employees, on charges of bribery and fraud. It has been called the largest public corruption case in western Virginia in decades and a step towards uncovering a ‘dark culture of corruption in Buchanan County’.”
Buchanan County also lies within Virginia’s “Pocket Of Shame,” along Russell County’s northernmost border, with a 2015 kill rate of 45%. Due east is Tazewell County, also within Virginia’s “Top Ten High Kill Shelters” for 2015. Dickenson, to the northwest, appears to have killed approximately half the animals in their care for 2015 (according to VDACS online reporting,) but they aren’t represented on the Fairfax chart, and the numbers wouldn’t indicate typical intake numbers for municipal animal control.
“Operation Big Coon Dog” left a lot of stones unturned. It focused primarily on bribery and racketeering, although animal welfare did get a nod when more than $40,000 worth of coon dogs were revealed to have been part of the payout scandal. But for those tempted to believe whistleblowers like me are radial conspiracy theorists, the Wikipedia page and media coverage devoted to “Operation Big Coon Dog” should at least give you pause.
ALMOST TOO HARD TO BELIEVE
"What in the hell???? This is insanity. I've never heard anything this bad in my life." --- response of Northern Virginia animal rights advocate when faced with a factual account of recent political machinations in Southwest Virginia regarding animal welfare.
Is this just crazy talk? Conspiracy theories at their best? Or is there a very real “Mountain Mafia” operating here in Southwest Virginia? Does Appalachia’s version of organized crime have some very high stakes, and infiltrate even the highest levels of local government? And if so, what would it have to do with animal sheltering and welfare? That’s where it gets murky.
“…I don't agree with cruelty to animals, and used to dumpster dive as a kid to rescue. But, to the majority of the locals they are just animals, not pets. They are to keep vermin and the like away from the cash crop and livestock. If you are struggling to feed your own children, let alone yourself, then you look at it through their eyes and get back to me. I'm not denying the issues or that at this point the area is becoming broken, but the condescendion [sic] gets in my craw, as I'm sure it does many of the people whom you are belittling. I wish you luck in your rescue. Though I would prefer not to see on your blog any more derogatory [sic] inferences that efface [sic] the area you chose to live in. It's not helpful, it is pitting you against them. Basically you are stirring up the pot. The people who chose to stay there didn't want to live like the rest of the country, so don't think you can swoop in and change it overnight, let alone make it like the rest.” ---public commentary by Southwest Virginia native offended by another blog post about this issue
Another element of the issues in Deep Appalachia is the desensitization of locals, the entrenched fear of challenging the political system, and mistrust of outsiders. The behavior described in the Abuse Report linked above is intrinsically psychopathic, far beyond any behavior reasonably expected from overburdened shelter workers or high stress career employees expressing “black humor.” Yet most of the outrage provoked by it so far has come from outside the Southwest Virginia region. Locally, public response by officials and community alike has been mild, or nonexistent. Regional media has systematically declined to pursue the story.
A community service worker’s 11 year old son whom Odell was babysitting at the shelter was present in the garage area and was allowed to watch Odell euthanize animals. Odell’s young grandsons (as young as 5 years old) have been in the garage and watched him euthanize animals. Odell’s 15 year old grandson…would help Odell by going to the kennels and getting dogs to bring to the garage for euthanasia. This untrained child would also hold animals while Odell euthanized them. (One eyewitness) felt that Odell was proud of what he was doing and seemed to like the idea of performing for an audience.
Reference to the alleged behavior of two Russell County public officials as “psychopathic” is not without cause. And it gets worse. The inclusion of children in such heinous acts (detailed in the report) is an indication of generational conditioning, and most likely a reliable prognosticator regarding future crimes against humans. Mary Lou Randour, the driving force behind the FBI’s new tracking policy for animal abuse crimes, says, “There is overwhelming evidence that [animal abuse] is linked to crimes against people, including violent crimes and domestic violence. It’s not about protecting people or animals, it’s protecting them both.” A 2016 Washington Post article (linked below,) makes the following assertion: “research has backed up that animal abuse can be a precursor to future violent crimes. In the popular Netflix true crime series, ‘Making a Murderer,’ the principal character burned his cat alive.”
The nation’s first “Attorney General’s Animal Law Unit” was launched in 2015 by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. From the OAG’s webite: “We've seen firsthand in Virginia that animal fighting is associated with other serious crimes such as drug distribution, possession of illegal alcohol or firearms, assaults, and illegal gambling. There's also evidence that abuse of animals or exposure to animal abuse, especially by young people, can be predictive of future abusive or criminal behavior.”
On Thursdays, the public would bring in multiple cats in a cage. Odell would inject them, then throw them back in the cage with cats that were still alive to finish dying. This would create a huge ruckus with the live cats who were clearly upset and frantic when dying cats would be thrown in their cage. “I saw them cut up their faces on the wire cage because they’d fling themselves so violently against the wire. It was awful. They’d hit the top of the cage, then the sides, maybe calm down a bit for a while, but then another cat would be thrown in and they’d both end up flopping around. When the first one finally died, gasping with its tongue hanging out, other cats would be thrown in on top of the dead and they’d all be flopping around.” No death determination was done on these cats before they were bagged and thrown in the dump. It is very possible some were still alive.
The permissive stance of authorities toward the abuses documented in this report could lead one to extrapolate that with the awareness and endorsement of Russell County officials and law enforcement all the way to the state level, the training and prep for future Southwest Virginia violent criminals is being carried out in full purview of the Commonwealth Attorney and county administration.
Nobody Can Be That Stupid
Wildlife was inhumanely trapped alive and forced into a 2” X 6” PVC cylinder tube. This tube was placed on the Animal Control truck and left capped until the animals in it suffocated. The tubes were designed by Odell Musick and he and Chris built two of them…ACO Wilson was told that the necropsy done on the skunk discovered in a tube by State Vet Inspector Helsel at the time of her inspection on 10-14-15 showed that it was not road kill. Russell County Administrator Lonzo Lester’s statement that the “tubes” were only used to pick up roadkill and control their odor is not accurate. The shelter does not pick up roadkill per Odell Musick. “That’s the job of VDOT.” The annual report summary to the State Vet verifies that “zero wildlife” was picked up dead for the years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Now we see that the Russell County Administrator has gone on record with a statement about the illegal “suffocation tubes” used by county employees. His reaction was to deny their purpose, to provide an alternate scenario that is in no way borne out by facts. But what about the missing DEA Schedule II drugs mentioned in this report? More than 300 ccs of “Fatal Plus” have gone missing from the Russell County Animal Shelter, and State Police Special Agent Josh Kite “found drugs on Chris’s animal control vehicle and the key to a drug cabinet on Odell. Both admitted to Kite that they had taken drugs form the shelter to euthanize a horse.” It is illegal in Virginia for these DEA scheduled drugs to be taken off shelter property by ACOs. According to eyewitness testimony, ACOs under the supervision of Odell and Chris Musick were told to record the use of “more ccs than I’m telling you to help catch up with the shortage.” Other scenarios discussed within hearing range of ACOs and other shelter employees included the possibility of diluting the Fatal Plus supply with water. This is all outlined in the report.
Now…are we to understand that county administration and law enforcement officials are gullible enough to actually believe the “innocent” explanations offered to them about these situations? Or does it seem more likely that, for whatever reason, a cover-up was their better option?
We’ve talked about abuses and euthanasia drugs and children and cover-ups, but until this point, I haven’t disclosed the more grim details of what actually has been going on in the Russell County Animal Shelter for years, since at least as far back as 1997. So let me do that now. But be warned—the accounts are horrific. Proceed at your own risk. Just know this is only a fraction of what’s included in the report, and that many, many animals have passed through the Russell County Animal Shelter on their way to the landfill for whom no records even exist.
Intracardic injection (heart sticking) of conscious animals was performed on dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. This is an illegal and very painful form of euthanasia. (McAfee Note: animals must be completely unconscious before performing intracardiac euthanasia, not simply sedated and certainly not conscious. 3.2-6503; 3.2-6570A. Animals would take 20-30 minutes to die. They would “flop around” until they died, and if they didn’t die, they were heart stuck again.(McAfee Note: Intracardiac and IV euthanasia should cause death within seconds. The length of time it took animals to die is evidence of the lung or diaphragm being painfully injected, not the heart.) Animals cried out in pain and struggled to free themselves while being heart stuck.
Odell would straight out heart stick fully conscious, fractious dogs, stating “That’ll calm his ass down,” then throw the dog into the quarantine room off the garage to die. If the dog didn’t die and was still breathing after 20 minutes, he’d heart stick the dog a second time. Dogs could be stuck 3-4 times before Odell finally hit the heart and the animal died.
An “assembly line” method of euthanasia was used: dead animals were piled up on the cots; the animal to be euthanized was on the table, and the next animal to be euthanized was held on a leash or catchpole waiting in line near the pile of dead animals and just a few feet away from the animal being euthanized. The waiting dog would sniff the adjacent pile of dead animals.
He picked dogs up by the scruff of their neck and their back, and slammed them down on the euthanasia table…he sometimes lifted them up roughly to the table on a catchpole; the dog dangled in the air as he threw them on the table…Chris Musick held the dog down on the floor in place with his booted foot crushing down on the dog’s head. The dog frantically tried to escape this foothold. While he struggled, Odell euthanized him.
The Musicks pulled catchpoles so tightly around some dogs’ necks that they would be rendered unconscious. They would then euthanize them.
…cats would dangle from the catchpole. They were frantic from the catchpole strangling their necks…the cats’ tongues were hanging out of their mouths and they were gasping for air. Some were vocalizing—screaming. (Chris and Odell would) pull back so tight on the pole that they were strangling them and the cats would bleed from their nose and mouth when they were flipping around.
Staff was to check death with stethoscope, toe pinch, corneal reflex, color of gums, observation of actual breathing and touching of abdomen for signs of breathing…Odell never did any of that. He’d inject the animal and immediately throw him/her onto the cots on top of the trash cans. He’d do this over and over with each animal without first determining that the animal was dead…dead animals would be rolled off the dead animal cots or thrown into a black plastic garbage bag, hitting the concrete floor in the process. There was no way to check the animal on the bottom of the pile for death until the ones on top of him/her were checked first and then bagged. Because the dead animal pile got so high (45-60 animals could be done in one day alone,) animals would falloff the pile and down between the trash cans supporting the cots or into the trash cans themselves.
After euthanized, animals were thrown on top of each other in a pile. Some of them were still alive. Before bagging them, ACO Wilson and/or community service workers would alert Odell that the animal was still alive. Odell would then inject the animal again. Odell depended on untrained community service workers to double check if animals were dead before putting them in bags for the trash. It is very possible that animals who were still alive were thrown in the landfill.
Allegations have been made about the possible killing of family pets who were lost. Statements have been given about dogs and cats going missing in Russell County, and there is documentation about one dog named “Chevy” who was seized without sufficient grounds and subsequently disappeared. Details in the report.
Some animals were euthanized prematurely before their holding time was up. If Odell or Chris wanted an animal dead, it was done and the date on the impound record was changed to reflect an earlier date.
In keeping with the theme of “Operation Big Coon Dog,” hunting seems to be a primary factor in much of the criminal and socially reckless activity attributed to Russell County Shelter Animal Control Officers. From the evidence presented, it would seem that Odell and Chris Musick have set themselves up a nice little cottage industry at the expense (financial and moral) of taxpayers. Let’s have a look at some of the allegations.
Both Odell and Chris give away dogs to the “beagle man.” He came to the shelter on Thursdays to look at beagles to see if he wanted any of them. The Musicks know that this person is selling the dogs that they give him…This taxpayer-supported facility is, essentially, being used as a free resource for an animal dealer’s private business.
A man and woman come into the shelter early on Thursdays to pick up cats “to test their hounds on.” The woman said they wanted “crazy, wild cats, not good cats.” Odell brought out some feral cats for her and he put them in the carrier she brought with her. When ACO Wilson said, “Thank God they won’t be euthanized,” the woman responded, “May as well be (euthanized) ‘cause we’re gonna use them the train our dogs on, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Chris and Odell would test hounds on kittens to see if they would make good hunting dogs. They would place a small, scared kitten on a tree limb and let the hounds loose to see the dogs’ reactions. (McAfee Note: State Vet Inspector Helsel’s report states “cats” were put in the trees. This is incorrect. Cats would have jumped down and run off. Kittens were too young to react in that manner.)
Odell and Chris let a raccoon out of the truck at the shelter and turned a coonhound on it. The hound ran after the raccoon and almost drowned in the creek beside the shelter. The only reason the raccoon didn’t drown was because Chris called the dog off when he noticed the commotion got the interest of the people in the Water Department across the creek. The dog, who had been exposed to a high rabies vector animal, was taken back to the shelter and adopted to the public.
It’s impossible to get a true understanding of the scope of this debacle without reading the report. It’s long, and the atrocities described in it are simply too heinous for most people to take in without some degree of distressing visceral response. Some people struggle to believe this could be happening with such impunity, with the knowledge and consent of so many officials. But those people may have no frame of reference regarding the fishbowl society of Deep Appalachia.
You can see news reports about the Russell County Animal Shelter HERE, and Part Two of the investigative series HERE. This Richmond reporter took a chance and made a ten-hour round trip to Russell County to cover the story. Yet even with this exposure, nothing has been done.
In Nottoway County, Virginia, the story is quite different. In February of this year, Animal Control Officer Raymond Merkh was convicted of animal cruelty after denying veterinary care for an injured cat at the shelter. He was terminated from his position, but Nottoway County Administrator Ronnie Roark then hired another Animal Control Officer with an alleged history of abuse. Eileen McAffee, author of the report referenced in this post, charged him with violating the Freedom of Information Act, and in October of this year, was awarded a win plus damages in the Nottoway County Circuit Court. See a newspaper article about this story HERE.
This proves beyond reasonable doubt that a bias exists in Southwest Virginia that would not be tolerated in other parts of the state. When county officials are permitted to engage in egregious abuses of not only animals, but state laws and ethical guidelines, it stands to reason that the community will not be receptive to any efforts targeting animal welfare as an area that needs improvement. This saddens and sickens us at Tazewell ARC, but it also explains the local hostility toward our efforts. How any community could think such practices are acceptable is beyond my personal ability to comprehend. All we can do is keep moving forward, and hope that through social media platforms like Steemit, we can raise awareness and the support we need to make a stand against such dangerous and deviant attitudes.