Tazewell County, VA: "The Adventure Tourism Capital of the Appalachians" (WARNING: Tourists May Want to Keep Their Pets Far, Far Away From Here)
"He hit that dog every bit of 8-10 times, about 5 times before he stopped yelping, And then hit him some more." --eyewitness account from yesterday's post
A Great First Impression
Community leaders in Tazewell County, Virginia, have made a big deal in recent years about its tourism potential. Many expensive projects have been launched to encourage more people to visit the area. One major point of concern that has been consistently overlooked is the sad state of affairs for animals in this region. This is marginalized by county officials, local media, and even the taxpayer-funded municipal shelter, which ideally would be the community's strongest and most vocal advocate for the welfare of our animal population.
Thankfully, there have been some improvements in the sheltering system here. If the kill rate had not dropped dramatically since my rescue organization started howling about it on social media (23% last year, down from 62% in 2012,) I was fully prepared to rent billboard space warning tourists to keep a very close eye on any pets traveling with them through Tazewell County. I still have concerns that animals may not be routinely inspected for microchips upon entering the shelter. At one time, the shelter didn't own a scanner. I'm unclear about whether or not they ever obtained one, or if they did, how frequently it is used.
Things like this matter a great deal more to people from out of the area than to many locals. Animals are viewed as personal property here more often than they're considered family members. A recent post by catherine813 tells the story of a woman who "rescued" a dog after it had been abandoned by people who moved out of a neighboring property. Despite an offer of help with the abandoned animal, she stated that she would "keep him until she got tired of him." Then what? He'll be discarded like yesterday's newspaper?
Unfortunately, that woman's attitude is in line with the general thinking of many in our area. It's pervasive even in community leadership. The animal shelter and animal welfare overall get very little ink from local newspapers and limited air time from television and radio stations. What does get published or broadcast is often trite and unrevealing. That's because here, tradition is to cover up the ugly rather than confront it and deal with it.
I have news for our community: if folks here think tourists won't see the multitudes of dogs living miserable lives on the end of their chains, the skinny horses in dirt lots with every rib showing, or the local classifieds with page after page of puppies, kittens, dogs and cats somebody needs to "get rid of," then they've got another think coming. People absolutely do make decisions about where to spend their money based on the social integrity of a region. And disregard for animal welfare is a very good indication for most Americans that the proverbial apple may be rotten to its core.
Animal Cruelty Capital of the Appalachians
What then, about felony animal cruelty that is committed in plain sight before multiple witnesses? What would potential tourists think about that? How do we suppose it would influence animal-loving adventure seekers thinking of traveling to this region? All the more reason to keep things hush-hush, right?
Nope. Not as far as I'm concerned. In my opinion, any community that, as a collective, places so little value on the life of innocents doesn't deserve tourists or the money they'd spend. And I'm pretty sure many potential travelers to this area would feel the same way.
Much controversy is raging in Tazewell County right now about the brutal murder of a dog in Doran, a community just outside of Richlands, VA. According to witnesses, a resident of that neighborhood beat a dog to death while its paw was caught in a trap. Despite two witnesses ready and eager to go on record with testimony about having seen the trap, the man has maintained that the trap didn't exist. He claims he beat the dog to death because it killed his chickens--even though the beating took place twenty-four hours after the alleged chicken killing.
Responding law enforcement initially did not seize the body of the dog. The carcass was left with the man and no charges were filed. The officer apparently felt that the property owner had the right to "protect his livestock." While there is a law in Virginia that allows people to defend the lives and safety of their animals with the use of deadly force against predators, this does not mean they can arbitrarily kill the suspected predator after the fact. In other words, you can't walk outside one night to find your chickens dead, then wait almost twenty-four hours to pull the trigger--or baseball bat, or whatever was used to cave in this dog's skull. That isn't "protecting livestock." That is a Class 6 felony in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
To at least one individual, the Sheriff's Office has asked that they "refrain from judgment until all of the information is available." They are apparently still investigating. Good. Let's hope they interview the two witnesses, whose stories wildly contradict the stories of the man they say killed the dog. I find their stories much more believable than his, because his keep changing. According to his neighbors, he has stated that the dog was inside the chicken coop killing his chickens, then a separate account has emerged purporting that the dog was actively attacking him. I published my "wish list" of documentation I'd like to see in this case in yesterday's post. I won't beat that same drum in this one, other than simply state that one such wish is discover when the man sought treatment for his injuries--the night he killed the dog, or the day after, when he realized he could be charged with a felony.
As for me, I believe the witnesses. Their stories have been consistent from the outset. One claims she saw the man set the trap. The other actually saw the dog with his leg caught in the trap. Both are willing to submit signed statements to this effect. I think something may have really killed this man's chickens at one point. But he didn't have the good fortune to catch the predator in the act. Instead, he set a trap, and the following day, caught someone's dog in it. I believe that he may have intended to release the dog, but when he realized the dog was biting and snapping in a panic, he knew he'd be unable to do so. Instead of calling Animal Control for help, he simply killed the dog with whatever blunt object he had at his disposal. I learned today that the initial veterinary exam showed no trauma to the dog's legs. However, seeing as how I also heard that the vet exam asserts the dog died of a "single" blow to the head, I'm not sure exactly how much stock I'd put in those findings.
Men who abused animals were five times more likely to have been arrested for violence towards humans, four times more likely to have committed property crimes, and three times more likely to have records for drug and disorderly conduct offenses. --Michigan State University College of Law
I would very much like to know if the man who beat the dog to death in Doran has ever been accused or convicted of domestic violence, other violent crime, destruction of property, or drug abuse. Anyone who doesn't understand how one thing could relate to the other would benefit greatly from reading this article, titled "The Link: Cruelty to Animals and Violence Towards People." It's a very well written, well-cited piece, authored by Cynthia Hodges in 2008. I've never seen so much solid information about this topic collected in one place.
It is my hope that authorities both inside and outside of Tazewell County will look at this case long and hard. I am sick to death of the good old boy system, and while I can't prove this is why the initial responding officer failed to take appropriate action, I certainly can't rule it out. I would love to have a good relationship with law enforcement in our area, but after the Ruger incident, I find myself very mistrusting and skeptical. When the eyewitness to a horrible crime like the murder of this dog says, "It was sad and angering and then to have the officer try to convince you that you didn’t see what you know you saw," I know exactly how she feels.
I will post more information as it becomes available.