For over 2 years, multiple dogs have been living in a makeshift dungeon in Wythe County, Virginia. Despite the fact that several of these dogs have died on the property that their owner is illegally squatting on, authorities have been non-responsive to animal advocates’ pleas to have these dogs removed.
These animals’ plight was first brought to the attention of Wythe County officials in 2010. A visit to the property revealed 12 dogs living in a ramshackle structure on Walton Furnace Road. The dogs were covered in fleas and caked in their own feces and urine. Several of the dogs had already died due to flea related anemia. Despite the horrific conditions in which these animals were forced to live, the dogs’ owner Mike Thomas was not cited nor was he forced to surrender any of these animals.
Although Wythe Humane Society was allowed to de-flea the dogs and clean their living area, it appears that the animals’ conditions have worsened during the past 2 years. According to a this recent Facebook note, “It was bought to my attention that this situation has gotten worse. In addition, neighbors have heard the dogs fighting. Unfortunately as you can see, no one can tell if any of the dogs are injured or dead.”
Animal rescuers attempting to help these dogs have been met with resistance by Mike Thomas. According to the Facebook page devoted to these animals, “Mr. Thomas is a very violent man. He wears a large knife around his neck, has an arsenal of weapons in his home, and recently shot at a young boy trying to save one of the dogs that escaped.” County court dockets reveal Mr. Thomas’ lengthy criminal history, with numerous arrests for assault charges.
While the owner of the property fights to evict Mike Thomas, his dogs continue to suffer in darkness in their wooden box. As there is no running water on the property, advocates question how these dogs are keeping hydrated. When shown photos of the dogs, local veterinarian Dr. Jared Morgan opined, “I’m seeing dogs who need medical attention. There are dogs with some rash, dogs with some irritated spots.”
Although The Humane Society of the United States plans to visit the property and has offered to cover all costs if the dogs are seized, the power to remove these animals ultimately rests in the hands of the Wythe County Animal Control Officers and the courts. Animal Control has been visiting the property yearly and to date have not found any violations. As Laura Donahue, Virginia representative for the Humane Society, explained to WSLS NBC, “We just need animal control to enforce the code and step up here and i would add that given the egregiously long amount of time that these animals have been suffering, we really urge the county to take immediate action.”
With authorities reluctant to act on these dogs’ behalf, their rescue may rest solely in the hands of animal advocates who continue to share this story and let their voices be heard. For anyone wishing to get involved, the “Free The Dogs in a Box” Facebook campaign has posted a note, “10 things you can do to help.” Please take the time to read through these suggestions and speak up for these defenseless creatures who have been suffering for far too long.
Author’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Wythe County Public Information Officer Jenna Nichols-Coleman. I apologize for any confusion that this may have caused.
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