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Henry County Sheriff’s Office & Henry County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office

January 20, 2022

A recent incident involving the death of a dog in Henry County has received a great deal of coverage online and by media. While a majority of media outlets accurately reported the details of the incident, some news outlets did not obtain all of the pertinent facts. In addition, much of the information on social media surrounding this incident is incomplete. In an effort to provide more clarity on the situation and because we know how much people adore and care for their pets, we believe it is necessary to inform the community of the outcome of this case. We would also like to use this incident as an opportunity to remind the public about the importance of responsible pet ownership, as well as the legal rights of homeowners.

On Dec. 23, 2021, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office was notified by a property owner that he had shot a dog that was on his property. Subsequently, the sheriff’s office conducted a thorough investigation into the matter. The investigation revealed the following facts.

In the late night hours of Dec. 22, 2021, the property owner noticed two large breeds of dog on his property. The property owner did not recognize the dogs. Additionally, he did not have any owner information. The investigation later revealed the two dogs were about a mile from their home when this incident occurred. This property owner attempted to get the dogs to leave by discharging a firearm away from the dogs. Undeterred, he noticed they were still on his property when he went to bed that night.

When the owner went outside the following morning around daybreak, he again found the dogs on his property—this time much closer to his home. Upon seeing the dogs for a third time, they were within a few feet of his cat. Based on the proximity of the two dogs and the defensive posture of the cat, the homeowner believed his cat was in immediate danger of being attacked by the dogs. The homeowner then discharged his firearm several times in the direction of the two dogs trying to get them to leave, but was unsuccessful. He then shot again and one of the dogs was fatally wounded. The homeowner quickly reported the incident to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.

The officers investigating this matter concluded the property owner found himself in a situation of protecting the life and safety of his companion animal, while on his own property, and acted within the scope of the law. To be certain of their assessment of the situation, the case was presented to the Henry County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office for further review and analysis.

Following the investigation of this case, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and the Henry County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office have been in regular communication and discussed the investigation at great length. After cross-referencing the facts gathered through the investigation with current Virginia laws and relevant appellate authority pertaining to animal cruelty of companion animals (pets), our offices did not believe the property owner acted with the requisite criminal intent required to prove a case of felony animal cruelty. However, and out of an abundance of caution and fairness to all parties involved, the facts of this case were also presented this week to a Henry County Grand Jury. Following the presentation of the evidence, and answering questions posed by the grand jurors, the neutral investigative body did not find sufficient probable cause to issue and sustain a felony indictment for animal cruelty. Having investigated this matter fully, presenting it for a possible charge and applying the facts to the applicable law, the matter is now finalized and settled. Certainly no one desires any harm or ill to come to any animal—especially companion animals.

We are saddened by this unfortunate event. To that end, we believe this also provides an opportunity to remind people that pets, especially dogs, are legally required to be under the owner’s control at all times. Pets, especially dogs running at large, are certainly capable of posing a threat to other people, pets and even livestock. If someone feels their livestock, pets, or other people are in danger of attack, they are lawfully permitted to use the necessary force to protect themselves, others, their companion animals, or their livestock. This can include the use of deadly force. We remind pet owners of the local ordinance “leash law” that remains in full effect and enforceable by law enforcement officers. With this in mind, we humbly ask all pet owners to abide by the “leash law”, taking necessary precautions to keep their pets under their control at all times.

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