Tazewell County, VA: "The Adventure Tourism Capital of the Appalachians" (WARNING: Tourists May Want to Keep Their Pets Far, Far Away From Here)

in #animals3 years ago (edited)

"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.

Working Theory

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.


Nope. Not going to bring my two kitties to Tazewell County. They're both chipped, and the chips saved their lives once. If the kind of disregard for animals in the story above is typical of the local populace and government, I am not going to risk my cats lives to travel there.

Not to mention I really don't want to see dogs on chains, unkempt and hungry horses, and animal abuse.

This is the point I keep trying to make to officials -- people do care about issues like this. Just because they aren't important to locals doesn't mean they won't influence decisions of people in other parts of the country.

Absolutely disgusting behaviour. Keep fighting the good fight. Gmuxx, UK.

I have no intention of stepping out of the ring any time soon, Sir Muxxy. :-)

Thank God! A lot of animals around here would surely be dead if it was not for you.

I can't see how the eye witness could dream up a trap that didn't exist. Also the dog was alive and not attacking anything when she made 911 call but needed to be beaten to death for killing chickens in between? Doesn't make sense.

As much as I love you, no, I wouldn't be inclined to visit the area with a dog along. Not sure I'd want to without them either. And I'm part West Virginian and remember when I was little visiting people and needing to stay in the car until my dad got back just in case the people we were visiting felt a need to warn us off...

I absolutely believe the trap existed, and that the dog was caught in it. That's the whole reason the eyewitness called 911--to get help extricating it. She imagines the dog's cries might be audible on the 911 recording. I'd sure love a chance to hear it.

This is disgusting, that a) someone did this to an animal, and worse is b) that the local authorities are trying to cover it up! Makes me ashamed and repulsed to be of the same species as vermin like this. I really hope the law does its job and dishes out justice, to restore law and order as well as faith in humanity.

It's people like you, Rhonda, and everyone who helps through @tarc to try stop this inhumanity, that shine a light of hope and pride.

Thank you, Anike. We've pushed for community awareness and change for going on five years now. It has won us a few supporters, but far more detractors. Locals don't want any light shined on these problems. In the past, the shelter refused to post photos of strays on Facebook so their owners could reclaim them. Thankfully they've changed their policy somewhat, but they still have a long way to go to meet the national standard set by successful municipal shelters. We have reams of documentation about dogs and other animals living (or killed in) absolutely deplorable conditions. It's going to take some very public examples before residents of this community get the message.

Oh, my goodness! I'm glad you're doing this for the animals who have no voice. They need it so much from what I'm hearing of Tazwell County. Hopefully you get more supporters, those in positions of authority would be an excellent show of humanity and community standing up for what's right.

There absolutely needs to be a change in the system. If not for the sake of the animals involved and humanity, but tourism. Hopefully the threat of using money against them, will get some action taken.

Agreed on all points.

Wow, @rhondak the link is most definitely there and to be able to beat a domesticated pet to death is not far removed from violence towards family, friends and potentially tourists. It's extremely sad to hear about stories like this and further to add the impotence of the authorities and locals that support or could really care less... It's incredible to read about stuff like this ... Just don't get it.

I know. The writing is definitely on the wall. Let's keep our fingers and toes crossed that this situation is handled appropriately. We need to take strides forward in Tazewell County, not keep pedaling backward.

what kind of animal does this to a trapped dog? Worse still what kind of 'law enforcement' not only ignores this but aids and abets in the coverup of this cruelty?

I rather doubt I'd want to drive through this community let alone stop there. This is 3rd world country behaviour. Not something expected in a supposedly developed country.

You echo what I've said for a long time--attitudes toward animals here are worse than attitudes toward them in some third world and underdeveloped countries. Defeating this circumstance will require effective leadership that includes appropriate prosecution of offenders and very public discussion of the problems. It will also take social pressure. Tazewell County locals may think they don't care about the world's opinion of them, but let it impact the area economically (and believe me, it already does whether they want to acknowledge it or not) and I imagine some tunes will change.

Hi, @rhondak. I was just forwarded your name by a Steemit friend, @valued-customer. He mentioned you were running a writing project. I've checked that out - to a degree. I'm going to do more research. Is there anything I should know about getting involved in some of your projects?I'm interested in writing some short articles or series' on a variety of topics. I also know some others who may be interested.

I did take the time to read your piece, here. Being a dog lover, it's nice to see some active advocates on this platform.

Looking forward to hearing back.


The Writers' Block is a peer review and workshop type of community. We work hard to help each other improve our skills. When you drop into the Discord for the first time, you'll land in Welcome Center and won't be able to interact in other channels. Folks will ask a lot of questions--we try to make sure we're a good fit for folks dropping in, and we also screen a lot of plagiarists that way. Just tell them you spoke with me and that I invited you. :-)

Thanks, sounds fair.

This is brutal and wrong. He should be caught and tried.

There is always another side of every story, and I'm sure he has one. However, I keep coming back to the two witness who both insist they saw the dog in a trap. I don't believe that is something that can simply be dismissed.

This is absolutely disgusting to read about. I'm thankful to see authorities over here in Belgium are taking action against (serial) abusers and can only hope the same starts happening in Tazewell, too. Hugs

Municipalities all over the world are making the connection. Very sad that rural Appalachia has to be one of the last.

@arrelaine13 told me this story the other day and my response was to ask her what third world hellhole this happened in. I should've known better than to ask.

I get that people have the right to protect their livestock, property, pets, etc. However, if someone breaks into your house and you shoot them because you were startled awake and your mind is filled with horrors of what could happen to your family, that's one thing.

If the guy that breaks into your house is unarmed, flees when he sees someone is home, tries to start his car in your driveway and the car won't start... you don't get to calmly get your gun, put on your favorite slippers, walk outside, knock on his window, and execute him in his car. He's committed a crime, but you aren't in imminent danger. You call the police.

I don't get how this isn't the same obvious difference. The dog wasn't chasing down one of his chickens, or sitting there with a chicken in his mouth. He was incapacitated in a trap. He wasn't going to harm anyone or anything. Call animal control, or let this helpful neighbor carefully release it and transport it to a shelter when they offer.

As for the vet, I don't really believe them either. This is a vet, no doubt, that is contracted to do work for the government. They aren't going to rock the boat and lose their contract renewal (or worse) when it comes up again. They're going to engage in the same circle jerk every other government official here continually participates in and say exactly what would be in their best financial interest to say.

What a shame. Again.

As always, you said it well. That is a great analogy and I think it's spot-on. As for that veterinarian, VCAL submitted a FOIA request for the RFP she has with the county, and there isn't one. Even though for work at the shelter alone--not counting the emergency animal control calls she charged for--she was paid almost $10,000 by the county in 2016. So there is, or at least was, no binding contract. "Circle-jerk" is the very best way to describe it.

It's stories like this that make me question my faith in humanity. How could someone do such a thing?

Good luck to you and I hope you get the justice that is deserved.

I ain't going anywhere that allows a man to beat a defenceless animal to death in public and not suffer serious consequences.
There is a direct relation to the abuse of animals and the abuse of defenseless people. If he's capable of one, he's perfectly capable of the other. There are no barriers like normal people have, no line that won't be crossed.
He must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Ghandi had it right when he said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Now, I live in a country far, far away but anyone caught doing that to a dog in Scotland would be waking up in hospital if they were really, really lucky.

I love the way you always put things in to perspective. :-)

My cat will never see the inside of Tazewell County, and I even have qualms about bringing my daughter there one day to visit TARC, given that she's bi-racial. If the community there acts like this towards dogs and other pets, I can't even begin to imagine how they view people of color. It's both sad and angering.

I sincerely hope this man will get the punishment he deserves for his crimes towards that dog.

You make a very valid point, @therosepatch. We do have people of color here and biracial children. I'd love to hear some of their stories.

The Akita is one of the most challenging dogs to own. Some insurance companies have even characterized it as the #1 "bad dog" and may even raise an Akita owner’s homeowner insurance costs.