|RICHMOND (November 23, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit (ALU) has been honored with the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) Humane Law Enforcement Award for their work to help rescue animals from Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, a roadside zoon in Frederick County. In August, 2019, Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit secured custody of 119 animals that were seized with from the “roadside zoo” after a judge issued an order finding that Keith Wilson, owner of the “roadside zoo”, “cruelly treated, neglected, or deprived the animal[s] of adequate care.” The HSUS Humane Law Enforcement Awards are presented annually to authorities who have taken an exemplary stand against illegal animal cruelty.
“My team and I are honored to receive the Humane Law Enforcement Award this year and we want to thank the Humane Society for recognizing the Commonwealth’s efforts to fight animal cruelty,” said Attorney General Herring. “Individuals who abuse animals either for sport or for entertainment are truly cruel and my team and I will continue to make sure they are held accountable for their actions and brought to justice. I would also like that thank our local, state, and federal partners who have helped and supported my office with animal cruelty over the years. I especially want to thank the head of my Animal Law Unit, Michelle Welch, for her tireless dedication to protecting animals in Virginia.”
In addition to Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit, the Human Law Enforcement Award was also presented to Spotsylvania County Animal Control, Virginia State Police, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, the Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office, Caroline County Animal Control, Louisa County Animal Control and Halifax County Animal Control.
“The Humane Society of the United States is proud to present the 2019 Humane Law Enforcement Award to this group of officers,” said Molly Armus, Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Cases involving this number and variety of animals are challenging, but these agencies demonstrated the highest level of collaboration and compassion to ensure that the animals were removed from terrible conditions. Virginia’s animals are safer because of their actions.”
In August 2019, Attorney General Herring announced that his Animal Law Unit had secured custody of 119 exotic and agricultural animals after a judge issued an order finding that Keith Wilson, the owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, a “roadside zoo” in Frederick County “cruelly treated, neglected, or deprived the animal[s] of adequate care.”
The animals were seized during an execution of a search warrant on August 15-16, 2019 at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park. The seized animals included lions, tigers, bears, camels, goats, water buffalo, and more. The animals were put into the care of animal control agencies and exotic and agricultural animal rescue partner organizations.
In November 2019, following the animal seizure, Attorney General Herring announced that Keith Wilson and his nephew Christian Dall’Acqua had both been indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty by a grandy jury in Frederick County. A trial date has been set in the Wilson and Dall’Acqua case for June 21-25, 2021.
Attorney General Herring and the ALU have previously won the Humane Law Enforcement Award twice before in 2015 for its work to shut down and prosecute the operators of the “Big Blue” cockfighting operation in Virginia and Kentucky and in 2019 for their work to combat illegal fox penning and wildlife trafficking in Virginia, after the ALU secured nine convictions and permanently closed five Virginia fox pens following a sweep it undertook with DGIF that targeted fox pens stocked with illegal wildlife.
In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people. To date the unit has handled more than 1,158 matters, to include trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.