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A stray, sick dog she had taken in escaped at least twice, and animal control was called in.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Paula “Poo” Wyche of Blue Ridge was charged with unlawfully depriving an animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment.
Courtesy of Paula Wyche
Princess, seen in July 2012, was found running loose on U.S. 460 near Blue Ridge. Since then she has escaped a pen at least three times.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Poo Wyche's house is decorated with a menagerie of odds and ends collected at yard sales across Southwest Virginia. In one corner sits a statuette of three owls. Upstairs, there's an antique map of the planet.
Wyche likes fixing things, she says. She likes making them better.
That's partly why Wyche, who has served on the board of directors of the Roanoke Valley SPCA for more than two decades, says she took in a sad-looking dog in June of last year after she spotted it running loose on U.S. 460 near her house in Blue Ridge.
After more than a year of caring for the dog - which she named Princess - Paula Sanford "Poo" Wyche, 68, was indicted by a Botetourt County grand jury Monday for misdemeanor animal cruelty.
"This is wrong," she said Friday, through vigorous tears. "I rethink it every second of every day. There's nothing I would've done differently."
Wyche said she took the dog to the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection in Roanoke immediately after collecting it from the highway in June 2012. The pound was then in partnership with the SPCA.
According to records provided to The Roanoke Times by Wyche, a veterinarian at the SPCA diagnosed the 8-year-old lab mix with a number of issues, noting Princess had bright red lesions on her skin and significant dental problems, among other findings.
Wyche said she asked the SPCA vet if she could foster the dog, hoping to save it from euthanasia.
"Being a good citizen of Botetourt County, as soon as she came to my home, I went to Fincastle and got a tag for her," Wyche said. "That's the first thing I did, because that's what you do."
Later in June and into July 2012, records show Wyche took Princess to her Bonsack vet of 27 years, who determined the dog had tapeworms and low thyroid levels, which was causing hair loss.
At least three times while caring for her, though, Wyche said, Princess escaped from an enclosure in her back yard. One time, Wyche said, Princess fell asleep on a neighbor's deck and was picked up by a Botetourt County animal control officer when the neighbors feared she had mange.
By the early spring, Wyche said, Princess was slowly improving. But when she worried about a new issue popping up, her usual vet wasn't in town. Wyche went to another vet, in Daleville.
That doctor said Princess had mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites. Wyche later tried taking Princess to a groomer, who refused her service because of the new diagnosis.
In June of this year, Princess escaped again - this time early in the morning. The dog was taken by a Botetourt County animal control officer to Angels of Assisi, a shelter in Roanoke, Wyche said.
"The animal officer in Botetourt came there and said that I had been cruel to an animal," Wyche said, crying.
The officer asked why Princess' hair was gone, and why her toenails were long.
"I said, 'I really think only God knows that because I've done everything possible,'" Wyche recalled. She told the officer Princess' nails were long because the Daleville groomer had denied her service.
That was in June. She reluctantly left Princess at Angels of Assisi, giving up her rights to see the dog.
On Tuesday, two Botetourt County sheriff's deputies knocked on Wyche's Blue Ridge door. It was just after 1 p.m., and she was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Wyche said she was handcuffed and placed in a squad car. Court records show she was released a few hours later on a $1,000 unsecured bond.
The grand jury indictment charges that Wyche "did ... unlawfully deprive an animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment."
Botetourt County Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle declined to comment on the case, saying he'd prefer not to try the case in the media since it hasn't gone to trial.
"There was a report of cruelty to animals, and apparently an investigation was done," he said.
He referred questions to Botetourt County Commonwealth's Attorney Joel Branscom, who has recused himself and his office in the case because it involves "a party or parties to which the commonwealth attorney or members of his office has a personal or professional relationship," according to documents filed in Botetourt County Circuit Court.
Assistant Botetourt County Commonwealth's Attorney Jill Deegan has a reputation statewide for her aggressive stance on cases involving animal cruelty.
Instead, Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch, a prosecutor in the Richmond office of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was appointed to handle the case.
Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Welch was appointed when Branscom's office opted not to participate. Gottstein noted Welch is also the state's expert for animal cruelty prosecutions.
"I don't know why someone thinks this," Wyche said of the charge against her. "Quite frankly I've never done a thing wrong in my life. I did get a speeding ticket last year at 67 years old." It was five miles over the limit, Wyche said, and it was her first.
SPCA Executive Director Denise Hayes said she'd been informed of the charge. "We take these allegations seriously and we intend to fully cooperate with authorities if needed," she said.
Barbara Dalhouse, who retired as president of the SPCA in June, said she's known Wyche for 12 years and worked with her on the organization's board since 2006.
"I can't begin to tell you what a sweet, kind person Poo is," Dalhouse said. "She has always been the kind of person that would do the kind thing."
Dalhouse called the charge "mean-spirited" and "spiteful," though she didn't elaborate.
"It is totally outrageous - the charges, everything," she said. "I know as a fact they are totally outrageous."
Wyche said she's looking to hire an attorney, and is contemplating what will happen next.
Staff writer Tiffany Holland contributed to this report.
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