|A judge on Tuesday allowed a felony theft charge to proceed against a PETA worker who picked up an unattended hunting dog later found to belong to a sheriff's deputy.
The attorney for Andrea Florence Benoit, 25, said Benoit was worried about the dog's welfare and wanted only to return it to its owner. She saw the fox hound October while working in Southampton County for Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Benoit and a co-worker, Carrie Beth Edwards, 26, were driving a van marked "Community Animal Project" about 10 a.m. Oct. 25 when they stopped along Va. 35 to pick up the animal. They were on their way to make a pre-arranged house call in the area, Benoit's attorney, Stephen D. Benjamin, said.
Prosecutors dropped their case against Edwards on Tuesday.
A motorist who saw one of the women placing the dog in the van testified Tuesday that the scene "didn't look right," so he called Southampton County Sheriff's Deputy J.T. Cooke Jr., an animal control officer for the county. Cooke found the van a few minutes later and discovered his Walker hound in the back.
Cooke testified that he had let out several of his hounds the night before to chase foxes, and one failed to return. The dog carried dye markings of numbers on its side and "JT" on its hip and wore a neon yellow collar bearing Cooke's name and cell phone number, Cooke said. It also had been outfitted with an orange collar fitted with an antenna that could track the animal for three to four miles.
By the time he found the PETA van, Cooke had received a second call alerting him that a dog that was likely his had been spotted in the area. So when Cooke stopped the van, he asked the driver - Benoit - whether she had just picked up a dog.
See Thing Your Way.
According to Cooke's testimony, they had the following conversation:
"No," she told him.
"You didn't just pick up a dog with zeroes on the side and 'JT' on the leg?" replied Cooke, who was in his sheriff's vehicle and uniform.
"Oh, you mean that dog. Yeah, it's in the back," Benoit responded.
Cooke saw that the dog no longer had on its tracking collar and asked Benoit where it was.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she told him.
The tracking collar was found near the side of the road where the dog was picked up. Benjamin said in court that the women had removed it. He said they were right to do so; otherwise they could have been charged with stealing the collar, he argued.
The prosecution dropped the charge of stealing the collar against Benoit, and both charges against Edwards.
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