On November 8, moments upon returning to their home in Slocomb, AL, frantic howls from the field next door pierced the ears of Elizabeth Benson and her fiance, Blake Mills.
Benson said they had noticed Bailey, their six-month-old female Labrador puppy, running in the field with two young men. “One of the young men, we recognized as a neighbor, ” said Benson. “We had barely stepped out of the car when we heard the yelps – the screams.”
Rushing in the direction of the field, the couple said they saw a pick up truck speeding away. There in the field, they found Bailey’s broken, dead body, her pink camouflage collar hanging from a tree branch overhead.
Nineteen-year-old Justin Kyle Goldsmith, of Old Malvern Rd, Slocomb, AL, and 18-year-old Spencer Yancey II, of Peacock Rd, Dothan, AL were arrested and jailed immediately for this senseless crime; beating a dog to death with a metal pipe.
Initial press reports pointed to a charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty. Outrage and disgust was expressed by animal advocates throughout Alabama, by letters and telephone calls to Geneva County Sheriff Department, Geneva County Commission and Geneva County District Attorney Kirke Adams.
Late this week, D.A. Adams announced upgraded charges, replacing the lesser charge with Class C felony charges. Felony animal abuse carries a one to ten year prison sentence but is seldom used, much to animal advocates dismay. More often than not, in spite of undisputed evidence of torturous suffering, the term “torture” can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) at the discretion of officers of the court. Adam’s decision to press felony charges comes as a long sought victory in the eyes of animal welfare and protection organizations and concerned animal lovers in the state.
This victory comes from a very unlikely area, given the documented history and current animal neglect, lack of protective laws or ordinances, and more precisely – the county’s failure to provide a suitable county animal pound.
For years, concerned citizens have urged the Geneva County Commission to construct and maintain an animal shelter, to no avail.
According to AL Code statues, this county is in violation § 3-7A-7:
“Each county in the state shall provide a suitable county pound and impounding officer for the impoundment of dogs, cats, and ferrets found running at large in violation of the provisions of this chapter.”
Karroll Hauseknecht has repeatedly attended Commission meetings, representing a private organization to prevent cruelty to animals, Good Shepherd Animal Shelter, (since disbanded), offering expertise and volunteers to staff a proposed county shelter. The organization presented architectual drawings to the commission for a facility, (at Good Shepherd’s expense). In addition, written permission was secured from the Alabama State Attorney General to allow the county’s donation of property and funds for the construction and operation of a pound, if the Commission determined that a public purpose is served.
Time after time, the Commission’s response was, “We will look into this,” according to Hauseknecht. “After years of begging and non-support, we had to throw down our banner. We now live under the burden of heartache for the dogs and cats who roam our county in utter despair, until they die of starvation – or are shot by individuals who consider them a nuisance. The drawings for the shelter sit idle, filed away.”
Hauseknecht added, “There are nine neglected, fenced-in horses on the verge of starvation on a property adjacent to our residence. Numerous calls to law enforcement have resulted in little to no relief in this situation. A little feed is thrown out from time to time, and everyone seems satisfied. In a day or two, there is no feed, no water. Not a blade of grass is left in the bare fenced area, and no shelter, whatsoever, from the elements.”
A Geneva County Jail employee, who wished to remain anonyomous, remarked, “There is a little black dog who has been sitting for two years, in the same spot up on the hill, where he was dumped, waiting for his owner to come back. A kind man has been feeding him, but he won’t last much longer. It is a sad sight, too frequently seen in this county.”
Another county employee said, “I, myself, am feeding a skinny mama dog hanging around McDonalds. Heaven knows what happened to her puppies. People shoot dogs everyday around here.”
From further investigation, it appears that a handfull of cities/towns in Geneva County designate a law enforcement officer to “go out and catch a stray dog,”, only to take it to a local veterinarian for euthanization.
A spokesperson for a lone animal rescue group in Geneva County, name withheld, said, “I don’t pay much attention to commission activities,” when asked if Geneva citizens desired to have a county shelter constructed and maintained. In the background, the agitated barking of dogs was detectable.
The decision by District Attorney Adams to press Felony Animal Cruelty charges against the two teens, who allegedly beat the puppy to death, is applauded by animal advocates. Nevertheless, Geneva County appears to be a “no dogs’ land”, from the observation and comments by residents. Untold numbers of deserted, abused and neglected dogs and cats are in dire straits tonight.
When dawn breaks tomorrow, these outcasts from society will continue to merely exist in the shadows of human civilization – shut out from human compassion. Perhaps Bailey’s tragic murder, with the prosecution of the guilty parties, will punctuate to the public the dire straits of the animals of Geneva County. They wait, hungry and afraid, for a new, safer dawn to break.