Part of the work we do as a rescue is take a stand against abuse and neglect of animals. In regions like Central Appalachia, the culture regards animals as property, as non-sentient beings who don’t experience fear or pain in any appreciable way, and who certainly have no rights, even the most basic right to live free of pain, suffering, and hunger.
Our activism to bring change has resulted in many clashes with locals, including not only residents but authorities as well. We’re blessed to have a split system in my county of residence, where the Animal Control Officers (ACOs) are actual sheriff’s deputies and not affiliated with the municipal kill shelter other than contracting it as a repository for strays. The Tazewell County Animal Shelter is improving from the horror show it was only a few years ago, but is still far from ideal. Our ACOs, however, are world-class, have extensive, advanced training, and have made several important arrests and seizures lately that send a clear message about animal abuse in Tazewell County.
TARC’s persistent and unrelenting outcry against the issues in Central Appalachia ultimately drew the attention of some powerful allies. These individuals are not glory hounds and often request specifically that they not be mentioned by name. But let’s just say that many of them have their own Wikipedia pages. They have a presence. TARC has not been integral to the wins they’ve scored recently in issues regarding Wise County and even some late-breaking good news in Russell County. But we stand with them and count many of them as friends.
The novel Steemhouse Publishing will soon release is based on some of these cases. While it’s fiction and should not be regarded as a documentary or expose, the story is set in a backdrop of realism taken straight from both the headlines and the buried truth indigenous to Southwest Virginia. While not specifically about animal welfare, High Kill draws a very direct parallel between abuse of animals and violence toward humans. To our knowledge, it’s the first work of fiction to take on this challenge in a large-scale way, and all of us at TARC have high hopes for its success.
The “ripped from the headlines” portions of High Kill are still unfolding in Southwest Virginia. In 2015, the ACO controversy that inspired the novel resulted in little action by Russell County authorities, although recently we’ve learned that Odell and Chris Musick, the father-and-son ACO team whose reign of terror over animals in Russell County lasted for decades, have finally been removed from their positions. Now the same shelter investigator who uncovered those atrocities has targeted Wise County, Virginia, and this time, officials responded.
From a clearly biased article in the Bristol Herald Courier:
Odle called Arwood to take the dog because it needed medical attention, and she and her neighbors couldn’t catch it to take it to a veterinarian, [Eileen McAfee] said. It took several weeks for Arwood to pick the dog up, according to Odle. She said Arwood dragged the dog off a porch, up a hill through a yard and down a dirt road to his truck with a catch pole around its neck, which choked it. He then picked it up and threw it into his truck, she said.
This bears eerie similarities to a plot feature of High Kill.
Other accusations leveled against Arwood include heart-sticking fully conscious animals and falsifying government records. This also parallels plot points of High Kill.
The BHC article quoted above is rife with innuendo suggesting that McAfee’s claims are unfounded and poorly documented. A month and a half later, they had changed their tune. Sadly, it seems that, like the Musicks in nearby Russell County, Arwood will face no criminal charges for his appalling conduct as ACO.
Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Virginia State Police concluded in October that no charges would be filed against him.
Still, it’s progress. And TARC is proud that our aggressive activism has aligned us with the groups leading this charge for animal welfare in Virginia, and not with the multitude of local organizations individuals who’ve stood by and watched in silence for decades due to culture, politics, and fear of reprisal.