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A Marion man is facing a felony animal cruelty charge after Smyth County Animal Control officers investigated the Sept. 12 stabbing of a dog on Cleghorn Valley Road in Marion.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Smyth County General District Court on Sept. 27, two men reported that they saw 54-year-old Joseph Franklin Stuart stab his neighbor’s dog, “killing it almost instantaneously.”

Assistant Chief Kristy Moore wrote in the complaint that Stuart told her that the dog, an approximately 60-pound Pyrenees mix, had killed another neighbor’s cat. The witnesses told Moore that Stuart had spent several minutes calling the dog over to him following its attack on the cat before Stuart stabbed the dog.

Animal Control Chief Chris Bennett said the dog had reportedly attacked several other animals in the neighborhood, but that no one had reported those attacks to animal control.

“Nobody has the right to take the life of an animal unless it’s being used for food or fiber,” Bennett said.

An exception to that rule, he said, is provided when a person, their family, livestock or pets are in danger of being attacked.

But that exception does not extend to retaliation against an animal after an attack, Bennett explained.

“It would be a different case if the individual were protecting themselves, their family or livestock or animals at home,” he said. “For somebody to take matters into their own hands when it comes to something like that, we’ve always filed charges and we’ll continue to do so.”

Stuart is the first in Smyth County to be charged with felony animal cruelty since “Tommie’s Law” took effect July 1. The law was named in honor of a pit bull that had been chained to a post and set on fire in Richmond. The story went viral, prompting residents to call on their state legislators for harsher punishments for animal cruelty.

Under the previous law, most offenses against animals were classified as misdemeanors. Now, the penalty includes up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Bennett pointed out that had the local attacks on neighborhood animals been reported, animal control could have charged the dog’s owner. According to Virginia law, canines that attack other animals can be deemed “dangerous dogs,” requiring their owners to register them as such and keep the animal confined.

Owners of dangerous dogs can face felony charges should subsequent attacks result from the owner willfully neglecting to confine it.

Bennett encouraged residents to contact animal control regarding animal attacks or other concerns.

“It’s impossible for our office to know about these things if they’re not reported,” he said. “If people have questions about the code or have complaints, we’re more than willing to help if they just give us a call. We can give them the legal avenue to begin with.”

The Smyth County Animal Control can be reached at 276-646-2222, or by calling the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office or town police after hours.

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