Princess’ Legecy – She Had No Chance for Justice
In April, I told you about Princess, a Great Dane that was found severely starved and sick. Luckily, animal control saw something in her and decided rather then euthanize her, to try to give her a second chance.
Although she only lived a couple of months more, she grew to be a wonderfully happy dog until her cancer took her.
Her abuser was caught but there was no justice for Princess! Just the pictures from when she was found are heartbreaking! Read more in the original story I posted.
Read her story from the vet who took her in and how this poor girl was denied the justice she should have received. What happened should never have happened and hopefully now will not happen again!
Written by Craig J. Blair, DVM, Lexington
Readers may recall hearing several months ago about the plight of an abused Great Dane named Princess. Upon hearing of this tragedy, I took her in and provided for her medical care at the Clays Mill Veterinary Clinic in Lexington. Now, four months after her death and three months after the settlement of her court case, I would like to offer a summary of her tragic life and the people who conspired to snatch justice away from her.
Princess was confiscated from Virgil Whitaker in Knox County on April 8. When officials arrived they found the dog starved, weighing only 75 pounds, and suffering from a large tumor on her left front leg. Just outside her small pen was a covered garbage can containing bags of dog food.
At our clinic, Princess was diagnosed with the following problems: malignant bone cancer, heartworm infection, a “bedsore” on her right hip, extreme starvation, respiratory and urinary tract infections, inflammation of the kidneys and severe periodontal disease. Her spirit certainly was not ill. From the day she entered our lives she never stopped wagging her tail or looking for treats.
By April 22, Princess had gained 30 pounds and was ready for surgery. Less than 12 hours after the amputation she was able to stand and walk. She came to our house on April 24 and quickly adapted to life as a house dog. In late June, Princess rapidly deteriorated and x-rays confirmed the cancer had spread throughout her lungs. Princess was allowed to die with all the dignity that Whitaker had previously stolen from her.
On April 12, Princess’ owner was arrested and charged with second-degree animal cruelty.
Whitaker declined to plead guilty at a court appearance in June and requested a jury trial. The trial was finally set to take place on Aug. 21. I was subpoenaed to testify and arrived at the courthouse in Knox County eager to help deliver justice. As time passed, we noticed a lot of muted activity in the courtroom. After about an hour, the constable asked the shelter director, Amy, to step out for a moment. When Amy returned she said the county prosecutor told her they were working on a plea agreement with Whitaker.
Prosecutors reached a plea agreement with Whitaker moments before the start of his trial. In return for a guilty plea, he was sentenced to 90 days of home incarceration and two years of probation. With what seemed more like a kiss on the cheek than a slap on the wrist, it appeared the Knox County prosecutor and District Court judge were more interested in logging a victory than obtaining justice.
Knox County officials lauded their win as one of the few, possibly the first, dog abuse convictions in Knox County. A conviction is all they got. When Whitaker was arrested, this type of offense was a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and some jail time. Prosecutors apparently felt such punishment would be too harsh for someone who simply starved a dog for months and refused to obtain vital medical care for a suffering pet. In Princess’ case, it appears officials completely disregarded public sentiment, and instead decided to exercise their own unique brand of moral turpitude.
Thankfully, hopefully, prosecutors will not have the opportunity in the future to make such a callous deal. On April 28, Governor Beshear signed Romeo’s Law. The law makes dog or cat torture a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. If Virgil Whitaker had been arrested just 16 days later, he would have been eligible for much harsher punishment. With such a law on the books, it will no longer be up to the county prosecutors or individual judges huddled in a back room with their flawed logic and personal agendas to decide what constitutes torture and appropriate punishment.
According to Knox District Court officials, the presiding judge in this case was the Honorable John Paul Chappell, District Judge for the 27th Judicial District serving Knox and Laurel Counties. Chappell is currently campaigning to win the seat in November’s general election. Although Chappell is only 10 months into his tenure, he has already been involved in controversy and was reprimanded by the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission for unethical campaign contributions on May 23, 2008.
When I diagnosed Princess with bone cancer, I knew that even in the best of circumstances she would likely live for less than a year. So why even try? When Princess came to me she had four legs, could not stand and was little more than a rack of bones with a tumor attached. In less than two months she had gained fifty pounds and was running and playing with kids and other dogs. Sometimes, often times, the quality of life is more important than the quantity.
A group of people were willing to stand up and testify to the cruelty that we had witnessed. Unfortunately, the county prosecutor and Judge Chappell never gave us that chance.
I hope that the electorate of Knox County keeps this case, as well as Judge Chappell’s previously reprimanded unethical behavior, in mind when they step into the voting booth on election day. Maybe the good people of Knox County will be able to salvage a little bit of justice for Princess. God knows there isn’t enough lipstick in the world to disguise this pig.
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