By Chase Purdy, Waynesboro News Virginian
The question facing attorneys in court Wednesday was less about the dog’s character and more about whether Donald Lee Moats had the right to use his rifle.
Augusta County Judge Victor V. Ludwig found Moats, 50, guilty of fatally shooting a pitbull without cause.
Moats told deputies in September that he shot the dog and threw it into the woods after the animal attacked one of his goats, said Deputy Matthew Carter, of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office. The dog had been tied to an axle near a doghouse in a yard where three of Moats’ goats roamed.
“I noticed that the leash had been clean-cut,” Carter said.
According to statements and testimony by Moats, he ran for his rifle after the pitbull named Tequila attacked one of his goats. Virginia law leaves room for people to shoot dogs in the act of killing or injuring livestock.
But Moats was the only witness to the event, he blew a 0.18 percent blood-alcohol level into a Breathalyzer – more than twice the legal limit for driving – and the allegedly attacked goat was never seen again.
At one point in the trial, the dog’s disposition became a focal point.
Amber Wenzel, the dogs owner, took the stand carrying a small stack of photos, each depicting Tequila during various stages of her life.
“Can you describe the dog’s character?” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robin Boylan asked, gazing sympathetically at Wenzel.
“I’ve got pictures…” Wenzel replied.
Assistant Public Defender Linda Czyzyk stirred in her seat.
“Objection, your honor,” Czyzyk said.
“This goes to the dog’s character, your honor – this goes to show this was a gentle and sweet dog,” he said.
Layered beneath the laughter of bailiffs and onlookers, Ludwig asked the attorneys to move on.
“A person has the absolute right to kill any animal that’s attacking their livestock,” Czyzyk said. “They haven’t proven that Mr. Moats killed that dog without justification.”
Ludwig recalled the facts: Tequila was killed by a rifle shot, her leash cut and body tossed into the woods.
“What we have here is a guy who was drunk,” the judge said, “making some judgment about what happened between a dog and a goat.”
Moats’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28. Moats remained free on bond.