Tragic Discovery Made In Virginia Beach Cat Hoarding Case

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This truly breaks my heart. There’s no other way to put it.

Last month, authorities that tried to execute a search warrant in connection with alleged cat hoarding at a woman’s Virginia Beach home made a horrific discovery. According to published reports, they found more than 100 dead cats in her freezer.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

“Our hearts go out to the animals inside the home,” Meghan Conti, a Virginia Beach Animal Control official, told the media. “But they also go out to the resident. This isn’t just your everyday owner — this is someone who really has some concerning problems.”

Authorities, who were forced to wear masks to combat the overwhelming odor of cat urine, also found more than 20 living cats at the residence. However, there is no guarantee that they can be re-homed. Their fate is uncertain because the surviving felines seemed “wild and untamed,” leading Conti to believe that they may be feral.

Media accounts also indicate that this was not the owner’s first brush with the law. Four years ago, she was convicted of illegally entering an animal control office to release cats. The media did not provide any insight into her punishment — if any — in that case.

Based on published reports, it is also unknown if she will be prosecuted in connection with this case.

Virginia animal care and cruelty laws

However, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(A), which regulates the care of companion animals by their owners, stipulates that each owner must provide adequate food, water and clean shelter. Owners must also make sure that their pets get adequate exercise, sufficient care, treatment, and transportation; appropriate veterinary care; and sufficient space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight.

Under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(B), failure to comply with any or all of these provisions is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $250. A second or subsequent violation for failing to provide adequate food, water, clean shelter or veterinary care is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by up to six months in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. A second or subsequent violation for failing to ensure that their pet gets sufficient exercise; provide sufficient space in the primary enclosure; or to provide sufficient care, treatment and transportation is a Class 3 misdemeanor. As such, it is punishable upon conviction by a maximum fine of $500.

Furthermore, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570(A), pertaining to animal cruelty stipulates in pertinent part that someone is guilty of the offense if: they deprived any animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment; or if they deliberately inflict “inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation” on any animal. The offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both.

It is easy to pass judgment and almost impossible to understand…

For most of us, it is easy to pass judgment based on shocking news accounts of animal hoarding. And it is almost impossible to understand why anyone engages in this activity.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), animal hoarding is generally defined as, “the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse.”

The ADAA also notes that several factors contribute to animal hoarding. These typically include:

  • poor decision-making and organizational skills
  • intense emotions,
  • strong attachment to animals
  • the overwhelming desire to “save” animals

“All hoarding leads to a sad outcome, but the saddest of all is the animals who die in an environment of neglect, filth, and stressful overcrowding as innocent prisoners of well-intentioned but misguided love,” the ADAA says. “These animals are innocent victims, enduring tragic lives with people who are equally trapped.”

Statistics provided by the ADAA indicate that:

  • 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities each year.
  • Hoarding affects at least 250,000 animals each year.
  • The vast majority of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
  • Most animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are single, widowed, or divorced women (although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females).
  • Up to 40 percent of people who hoard things also hoard animals.
  • All hoarders relapse without treatment

Memorial Day tributes… honoring the fallen

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They say a picture says a thousand words.

With that in mind, I’m taking a break from writing about animals and legal issues to share some of my favorite photographs from the last two Memorial Day parades I attended as a resident of Warrenton,  Virginia.

I hope you enjoy these images and that, as we all return to work after the long holiday weekend, they serve as an ongoing reminder of what is truly important…

Wreath. Shot at Memorial Day Service in Warrenton, Virginia in 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Memorial Day Wreath. Warrenton, Va., 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Old Glory. American Flag. Photo taken at Memorial Day Ceremony by Alexandra Bogdanovic
American Flag. As seen at Memorial Day ceremony in Warrenton, Virginia. May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Red, White and Blue Umbrella. Pictured on Memorial Day, 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Patriotic Colors. Memorial Day Ceremony in Warrenton, Va., May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Second and Main. Warrenton, Va. Memorial Day, 2012.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Main Street America. Memorial Day Parade, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Old Glory. Memorial Day, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Memorial Day, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Follow the Leader. Memorial Day Parade, 2012. Warrenton, Va.
Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

This is (almost) enough to restore my faith in humanity

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A recent story about a Marshall, Virginia, boy’s generosity is almost enough to restore my faith in humanity. Almost.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As reported on fauquier.com, young Cody Glidden demonstrated unusual maturity and selflessness as he prepared to celebrated his 11th birthday this summer. Instead of asking for presents, he asked his friends and family to get gift cards for local eateries. And instead of keeping them, he decided to give them away.

Specifically, he donated them to Warrenton’s Finest.

But would prompt the young boy to collect the gift cards for the local police? Warrenton Police Chief Lou Battle wondered the same thing.

“That was a first,” Battle told the Fauquier Times.  “It was a big, generous gesture. What kid that age would trade birthday presents for gift cards for police officers?”

To me, the answer is simple. A good kid. A kid who has already learned the importance of putting other people’s’ needs and feelings ahead of his own. A kid whose parents have done a fantastic job raising him.

“I just wanted them to know the people here appreciate them,” Cody told the newspaper. “I didn’t really expect anything, maybe just a thank you,” he said.

In return for his generosity, Cody got a tour of the Warrenton Police Department and some souvenirs. He also got to meet Battle and some Warrenton police officers when he and his father stopped by headquarters to drop off the gift cards.

Personally, I wish I’d still been there to cover this story. It was the kind of thing I loved to write about — and the kind of feel-good story that readers love to see.

Personally, I’d love to see more of these stories and less of the garbage that passes for “news” these days.

Who knows. If I do see more, it just might just fully restore my faith in humanity.

Who killed Sarah L. Greenhalgh? A Virginia murder mystery

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A lot has happened since I left Warrenton, Va., four years ago. After I came home I worked as a reporter in Westchester County for a year. When I officially got completely fed up with journalism I  went to Europe to hang out with family and do some research for my next book.  After that I got a gig as a freelance editor while I earned my paralegal certificate from Pace University. With the certificate in hand, I started In Brief Legal Writing Services.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But one thing hasn’t changed. The 2012 murder of Sarah L. Greenhalgh remains unsolved. Or more accurately, no one has been charged and no arrests have been made in the death of the newspaper reporter who shared my passion for the cops and courts beat, photography and my love of animals — especially horses.

Sarah, 48, was working as a reporter in Winchester, Va., when someone shot her and then torched the house she was renting in Upperville, Va., in July 2012.

The initial investigation revealed that Greenhalgh and John Sheldon Kearns — a Gainesville man identified in news reports both as her boyfriend and ex-boyfriend — had supposedly argued “hours before her death.” Soon after the discovery of Greenhalgh’s body, news about a post on her Facebook page also surfaced.

In that cryptic post, reported to be her last, Greenhalgh said she planned to “sleep with the windows wide open” that night. She also lamented about an unknown man who had apparently been bothering her.

While authorities first identified Kearns as a “person of interest” they did not identify him as a suspect in the case until December 2014.

As of last July, the investigation was still ongoing.

“We’re still pursuing leads and working with the division of forensic science,” Lt. James Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office told the Loudon Times-Mirror last year. “People have referred to it in the past as a cold case just because it’s the third anniversary, but it’s never been closed.”

Now, more than one year later, I can’t help but wonder how much progress — if any — the authorities have really made. It’s not that I don’t believe Lt. (now Sgt.) Hartman. In more than eight years of covering cops and courts in Fauquier County, I got to know him pretty well and have always known him to be as forthright as possible under the circumstances. I just have a nagging feeling about this case.

I have from the beginning.

Perhaps it’s because I saw Sarah just a few weeks before she died. Perhaps it’s because of the unique bond we shared as police reporters. Perhaps it’s because I followed in her footsteps.

You see, I got the job as the cops and courts reporter at the newspaper that was then known as the Fauquier Times-Democrat  after Sarah left to take another newspaper job in Florida in the fall of 2003. I inherited her beat notes (a list of sources, contact information and detailed instructions on how to access the court websites) and comprehensive newsroom survival tips.

I also inherited a desk drawer full of pens — and a sticky note detailing what would happen if any went missing.

“I will kill you if you steal my pens,” my predecessor had written, adding a smiley face to take the edge off the threat.

And that, as a mutual friend quickly pointed out — was typical.

Yes, Sarah was a tough woman. She was also talented, driven, dedicated and outspoken.

I am sorry we never got a chance to work together. Judging by what our mutual friends have said, we probably would have gotten along famously — or we might not have gotten along at all.

“You and Sarah are a lot a like,” one friend once said.

I thanked her for the compliment.

When it comes to the court of public opinion, choose your battles wisely

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There’s a lot to be said for individualism. There’s a lot to be said for standing up for yourself. There’s also a lot to be said for fighting the court of public opinion. Or trying to, at any rate.

But the sad reality is that if you try to do that — you’re probably going to lose.  Because, like it or not (and personally I don’t like it a bit) the court of public opinion is pretty damned powerful.

It seems like the couple from Virginia that I told you about last week may have learned that the hard way.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

To refresh your memory, the couple — who already owns a dog kennel — wanted to expand it. But in order to do that, the couple needed a special land use permit from the county.

From what I understand, the application for that permit has been withdrawn — for the time being, anyhow.

If you’d like to know why, you can read more about the decision — and what’s next for the couple — here.

In all honesty, I’m not surprised. As I told you last week, the couple’s plan came under considerable scrutiny — not from the county — but from the public. Dozens of people made their displeasure clear at the most recent municipal meeting on the subject. And even more did so by signing a petition.

Specifically, opponents have objected to the number of dogs the couple wants to keep on the property for breeding purposes and the number of puppies those dogs will have.

Needless to say, the couple’s attempts to allay the public’s fears and concerns regarding a potential “puppy mill” have fallen on deaf ears.

But just what is a puppy mill, anyhow?

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), puppy mills are “inhumane commercial dog breeding facilities that may sell puppies in pet stores, online or directly to the public (in flea markets or via classified ads).”

The HSUS also says puppy mills disregard the dogs’ health—both physical and emotional—in order to maximize profits.

The organization estimates that there are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S., and that fewer than 3,000 of these are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Collectively, the licensed and unlicensed breeding operations produce more than a million puppies that end up being sold in the United States each year.

Meanwhile, millions of unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized each year.

So an important question remains. Even if the breeding operation this couple is proposing is legitimate, do we really need more purebred or “designer dogs” when there are so many animals in need of forever homes?

Controversial Virginia land use application triggers puppy mill concerns

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Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

It’s been four years since I left Warrenton, Virginia, and returned to civilization. But I still visit certain news sites to keep track of the happenings in my old stomping grounds.

To be honest, I don’t know why I bother. Considering all of the s–t I put up with when I lived down there, you’d think I’d be happy to put the past in the rear view mirror.

Having said that, it’s kind of fun to keep track of what’s going on now that I no longer have a dog in the fight — pun fully intended.

You see, a controversial land use application has caused quite a stir in good old Fauquier (pronounced faw-keer) County, Va. Specifically, the proposed creation of a dog breeding facility has triggered concerns about a puppy mill.

As reported on fauquiernow.com (the “go-to” source for news in the county) the applicants — who own more than 60 acres — want to expand their current kennel to house and breed dozens of dogs. They also want to provide “training for service and therapy dogs as part of the proposed expansion.”

More than two dozen concerned citizens spoke against the idea at a recent Fauquier County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. More than 70 reportedly expressed their opposition by signing a petition.

The applicants, who have reportedly been breeding and selling dogs for nearly 20 years,  have said the concerns are not justified.

Whether or not they will get the permits needed to make the proposed plans a reality remains to be seen.

All I know is I’m happy I don’t have to cover this story. I’ve covered more than my share of controversial municipal meetings like this. It’s not fun.

I’m also happy I didn’t have to write the story about more than 100 animals rescued from a “suspected puppy mill” in Mississippi.

According to published reports, authorities and members of Animal Rescue Corps saved the animals as the result of an investigation conducted by the Tate County Sheriff’s Department.

“Approximately 100 dogs, including litters of puppies and pregnant dogs, 1 donkey, 12 cats, including kittens, 50 chickens, 2 turkeys, 3 parrots and 6 rabbits were found without adequate food, water, or shelter, ” the Animal Rescue Corps said in a press release posted on its website. “The animals were all extremely dirty and suffering from heavy infestations of internal and external parasites such as fleas, ticks and worms. Many adults and puppies were suffering from alopecia and anemia as a result of their heavy flea and tick infestations.”

The animals confiscated by law enforcement were taken to an emergency shelter for further evaluation and veterinary treatment.

The owner was not identified.

Injustice, indeed

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“Nothing surprises me, but many things disappoint me.”

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

It’s something I often said while working as a reporter for more than 20 years — and it’s something that remains true today.

So, no, I wasn’t surprised when my daily search for blog fodder unearthed a recent techdirt.com article about the Virginia Supreme Court’s failure to implement new rules that would correct alleged imbalances the Commonwealth’s court system.

But I was definitely disappointed.

As I said, the premise of the article in question is that Virginia’s court system is flawed  and willingly operates in such a way that the odds are constantly stacked against defendants. Furthermore, comprehensive policy review and public pressure has done nothing to convince those in charge to change the status quo.

That may all be true. In fact, after spending more than eight years on the cops and courts beat in Fauquier County, I don’t doubt it.

But perhaps the author wouldn’t have painted Virginia’s judicial system with such a broad — and scathing — brush if he’d been sitting with me in Fauquier County Circuit Court a few years ago.

Back then I was covering a case in which a man employed at the Pentagon was facing charges after he allegedly hit a state trooper with his car at the Virginia Gold Cup (or perhaps it was the International Gold Cup) steeple chase races at the Great Meadow Field Events Center in The Plains. The accused, who held some sort of military rank (I believe he was a lieutenant colonel) had supposedly been drinking and engaged in a verbal dispute with the trooper as he was leaving the grounds. When the trooper told him to stop his car, the man allegedly refused and the vehicle knocked the trooper to the ground.

When the case finally made its way to Circuit Court, the accused appeared in his military uniform. Now to me, that was highly unusual and highly questionable. After all, anyone who has ever covered courts knows that defendants in criminal cases can’t be tried in their “jail jumps” because it could potentially prejudice the jury. So why on earth would a defendant in a criminal case be allowed to appear in a military uniform? Couldn’t that also sway a jury, especially while the U.S. was in the midst of a war in the Middle East?

Never mind. That’s a rhetorical question. In my opinion, it did. In my opinion, this guy was allowed to wear his uniform in order to increase his chances of acquittal. And it worked. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. And when he got off, he celebrated by doing a little “victory dance” outside of the courthouse.

As far as I am concerned, his behavior was a disgrace to his uniform, and in his case, the odds were stacked against the prosecution.

It was a grave injustice, indeed.

 

All aboard! Amtrak OK’s limited pet travel

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Amtrak train photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Amtrak train in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The new year brings a new option for people who want or need to travel with small pets.

Now through February 15, Amtrak is allowing passengers traveling on trains between New York and Washington D.C.; Boston and Norfolk, Va.; and Brunswick, Maine, and Boston, to bring their dogs and cats along.

The service, announced in November, is classified as a “pilot program” and as such includes numerous stipulations. For one thing, the length of the entire journey can not exceed seven hours. Passengers traveling with pets must begin their journey at a staffed station where Amtrak workers can verify that certain requirements have been met. Pet owners must sign “pet waivers” and submit them to station staff, conductors or other train crew prior to boarding. Due to limited availability, Amtrak urges people who want to take advantage of the service to make reservations well in advance.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Passengers must remain with pets at all times.
  • Pets must remain inside their carrier at all times and may not be removed from their carrier while in stations or onboard (sic) trains.
  • Passengers must keep their pet carrier under their own seat. Pet carriers are not permitted under the seat in front of you.
  • Pet carriers are not permitted on train seats.
  • Pets are not permitted in Business class, Café Cars or other food service cars.

To see more fine print, including the rules pertaining to the age and size of acceptable pets, click here. A quote from Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman can also be found in an article recently posted on globalanimal.org.

Personally, I applaud Amtrak for implementing its new plan. I think it’s a fantastic option for people who don’t want to subject their pets to the rigors of flying or even a long drive. But given Eli’s propensity for puking and incessant meowing on long trips, I definitely have my “reservations.”