In perhaps one of the most daring jail breaks in recent history, the two canines responsible for the slaughter of multiple alpacas this past August were stolen last week from a local animal shelter.
On Friday, Dec. 21, Essex officials reported that an unidentified suspect broke into the County Animal Shelter in the nighttime hours, stealing two pit bulls that were sentenced for execution that day.
According to Interim County Administrator Bill Pennell, the suspect drove a vehicle to the back of the building, pried open a window and broke into the shelter.
“The only items we could find missing were the two pit bulls that we were holding pending court action on the case of the attack of the alpacas,” Pennell reported.
The dogs killed 13 of Upright Alpaca Farmers Abbey and Wesley Gauvin’s, of Dunnsville. livestock in August. Both animals were slated for court ordered euthanization.
“Once the crime was discovered about 7 a.m. on Thursday morning, Tappahannock Police were immediately notified and they responded and began their investigation,” Pennell continued.
Although the county manages the animal shelter, the town police department took the case as it falls within Tappahannock’s jurisdiction.
Essex County Commonwealth’s attorney Vince Donahue, who reported that the shelter sustained no other damage, notified Wesley of the break-in on Friday, Dec. 21.
Wesley said that he was outraged by the news and speculated that the crime was the result of an “inside job” between the dog owner, Alonzo Norman, and one of the workers at the shelter.
“The first time we went to court, the pound volunteer testified on the dog owner’s behalf,” he said.
The volunteer, James Fennell, testified in open court to the condition of the dogs at Norman’s request.
Norman originally filed for an appeal against the dogs ordered euthanization, but according to Donahue, that request was suspended on Dec. 17, the day before the appeal’s scheduled hearing.
“[Norman] came to me…it seemed like he wanted to let it go,” Donahue recalled. “I just told him he can abort a hearing if he would just go into the clerk’s office and withdraw his appeal.
Donahue added that he considered the matter to be over.
In dropping the appeal, Norman allowed the court to proceed with its original sentence.
“I was told they were supposed to be euthanized [Dec. 20] but the vet wasn’t able to do it because they didn’t have enough manpower, so it was therefore rescheduled for [Dec. 21],” Wesley said in a Dec. 21 interview.
In posts to his Facebook group page for Upright Alpaca Farm, Wesley Gauvin held the town and county accountable for the stolen pit bulls.
“Public safety is in jeopardy if anyone can break into a county facility where dangerous animals are held…especially when there are no alarms or cameras to be monitored,” he wrote. “Essex county residents should be alarmed.
Pennell shared the Gauvins’ indignation.
“We are upset that someone burglarized our shelter,” Pennell said.
Donahue said the timing of the dognapping was convenient; adding that the dog owner’s withdrawal of his appeal was public knowledge.
“Obviously whoever did it knew the dogs were going to be put down sooner than later,” Donahue said, adding that multiple media reports noted “it was going to be done by the end of the week.”
The commonwealth’s attorney called the burglary “unbelievable” and said he was “dumbfounded.”
“Hopefully we’ll have it solved soon,” he continued.
The county promised the police department their full support.
As of presstime, a police investigation is currently ongoing.
Tappahannock Police Chief James Ashworth reported that two town officers have been assigned to the investigation.
“We’re working the case as a breaking and entering,” Ashworth said. “We’re going to pursue this case to the full extent that’s legal.”
Town enforcement will interview everyone who has had contact with the animals and may conduct polygraphed examinations.
Ashworth called the case “really strange.”
“It’s like a death row escape,” he said of the dogs that were taken.
In a media release Tappahannock police described the two stolen pit bulls as a 65-pound-male with tan and white markings and a 55-pound-female with tan and white markings.
Ashworth asks that anyone with information regarding the investigation or the animals’ location call the Tappahannock Police Department at 804-443-3992 or the Essex County Sherriff’s Department at 804-443-3346.