Commonwealth’s Attorney Has Special Interest in Combating Animal Cruelty

Jill Deegan and her dog.

Before she became an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Botetourt County in February 2004, Gillian (Jill) Deegan served as a Roanoke County police officer and a parole officer with the Virginia Department of Corrections; she also practiced law in Salem.  She has another passion: animal rescue.  “It’s just been something that I’ve been very interested in and I’ve worked in rescue for years,” Deegan explains. When she assumed her present duties, “it just seemed like a natural fit to give me the animal cases.”

For her work in prosecuting animal cruelty cases, Deegan has been listed as a national honoree by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and will travel to Ohio at the end of May to receive an award from the National Animal Control Association.

Recently she was honored with the President’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement from the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.  The New York Times recently wrote about a campaign in California to create a registry of people who have been convicted of animal cruelty.  “There’s also a movement, nationwide, to kind of have something like that in place,” says Deegan.

The cases Deegan commonly encounters fall into two categories.  The first involves companion animals– generally dogs and cats that are severe neglect cases vs. somebody that’s actually beating an animal.  Her office just completed a case in circuit court involving a boxer that was starving to death and contracted a skin condition that produced an ultimately fatal secondary bacterial infection.

The second type of case, involving agricultural animals, occurs in more rural areas.  In her jurisdiction, Deegan has had issues involving cows, horses, goats and pigs.

The closest Deegan’s office has come to a case involving an exotic animal concerned a python.  Neither she nor the Botetourt officers knew anything about snakes, so Deegan sought help elsewhere.  “I called Virginia Tech, spoke with one of the veterinarians up there, and we determined that the snake was not being neglected . . . It turned out what the guy was feeding it was appropriate for that snake and that size.”

Deegan points out that there is a connection between animal cruelty and violence against people.  “There are tons of studies . . . a lot of violence begins in childhood with committing acts of cruelty against animals. When you look at the serial killers out there, they all have committed acts of animal cruelty. It just seems kind of a natural progression.” Adds Deegan, “certainly there are people out there that commit acts of cruelty against animals and don’t progress to the people, but it is a pretty common denominator.”

Her office recently began a partnership with Roanoke’s Angels of Assisi animal clinic to care for animals seized in cruelty investigations and  help prosecute such cases.  The clinic provides care and shelter for the animals and expert testimony when Deegan prosecutes the case in court.

“We went to Angels because they kind of shared the same vision that we do, which is we look out for all the animals–whether you can afford it or not,” says Deegan.  “It’s difficult to find a veterinarian that’s willing to see these animals on an emergency basis, then come out and testify for us.  Being a non-profit facility, Angels of Assisi’s goal is animal welfare.  “Their vision was very similar to ours,” added Deegan, “and they were willing to basically donate their services to Botetourt County to pursue these cases.” It’s a cause near and dear to her heart.

By Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.
[email protected]

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