On May 18, 2018, Worley Whitt braked his pickup to a stop on Limestone Road in Tazewell County, VA. Seconds later, a passenger opened the truck’s door and tossed a dog out onto the pavement. The door closed and the pickup drove away. The dog trotted after the truck, then disappeared, and has never been seen again despite concentrated efforts to find her.
The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office was monitoring a trail cam at this site. They identified Mr. Whitt and charged him according to VA Code 3.2-6504/Animal Abandonment. The case went to court, and a General District judge fined Mr. Whitt $25.
In case the significance of this doesn’t register at first, that $25 fine did not even pay the salary of the officer for the time he spent putting the case together. It would not even begin to pay for the care of a dog turned in to the Tazewell County Animal Shelter, leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill. Dumping a dog is a Class 3 Misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable by a fine of up to $500 according to state code.
So how did this General District judge arrive at a fine of $25? I’m not at all sure. I can guarantee, however, that much of this is grounded in culture. Animals have been regarded as property in Appalachia for generations, to be dealt with and disposed of at will. In my opinion, this judge did not fulfill his obligation to the law when he issued such a negligible fine.
I would love to see this post and video go viral. I can’t imagine the frustration our law enforcement officers must have felt to see their hard work and due diligence in this case be marginalized by a court system that failed to honor the spirit of Virginia law. Lately, local animal control officers and police entities have come under growing international pressure from animal lovers and animal welfare activists due to greater exposure of the problems here in Southwest Virginia. However, in this case is it clear to me that our officers went above and beyond to uphold the law and speak for this dog, who could not speak for herself. They were failed by the court system, by a judge who is not paying attention to the concerns of people in this community and elsewhere in the world.
The judge will not reverse his decision. That ship has sailed. However, General District judges are appointed in Virginia. Our state representatives Will Morefield and Ben Chafin are the people who need to hear about this. They need to hear from constituents. They also need to hear from people around the world who are watching the situation in Tazewell County. This includes not only potential tourists, but large corporations who could potentially bring industry to our region. The era of the Good Old Boys has passed. In today’s world, we want to see abusers held accountable. In fact, we demand it. Please take a moment to contact Mr. Morefield and Mr. Chafin at the addresses and phone numbers provided below.
900 E. Main St,
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Office: (804) 698-1003
Room Number: W228
P.O. Box 828
North Tazewell, VA 24630
Office: (276) 345-4300
Delegate’s Personal Website
Senator A. Benton Chafin, Jr.
Pocahontas Building, Room E514
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: (804) 698-7538
331 West Main Street
P.O. Box 1210
Lebanon, VA 24266
Phone: (276) 889-1044
In final thoughts, I’ve been writing for several years about the deplorable situation that animals face in Southwest Virginia. In many ways, it’s comparable to conditions in underdeveloped countries that have limited or no public services for people or animals. Trying to make community leaders and government officials understand how this affects us at the socioeconomic level has been very difficult. Our county recently had a nearly three-million-dollar budget shortfall, resulting in the loss of more than a million dollars in funding for local schools (article HERE.) Addiction is epidemic here. Jobs are scarce. Our community is dying, and the best answer local politicians can come up with is to place more emphasis on tourism. You can read more about that HERE. We definitely have problems, and no solutions anywhere on the horizon.
Many studies have been done in recent years that link animal abuse to violence against people. Some finding indicate that animal abusers are five times as likely to abuse humans. The FBI has identified animal abuse as an indicator and predictor of more serious crime. It stands to reason that neglect and abandonment of animals will also reflect a similar trend in behavior toward humans, especially children.
We need to make our leaders aware of the facts. And we don’t need to stop until they understand how those facts affect all our lives directly.