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Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219


For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Photo of Recipients

Photo of ALU with Awards


~ AG Herring's first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit and DGIF receive Humane Society's “Humane Law Enforcement" Award ~

RICHMOND (May 23, 2019) – Attorney General Herring's first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit (ALU) and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) have been honored with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Humane Law Enforcement Award for their work to combat illegal fox penning and wildlife trafficking in Virginia. Last summer, 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. 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 accept the Humane Law Enforcement Award and we want to thank the Humane Society for recognizing Virginia's efforts to end fox penning once and for all," said Attorney General Herring. “Those who abuse or kill animals for sport are truly disgusting individuals and my team and I will continue to make sure that they are brought to justice and held accountable for their actions. I would also like to say a huge thank you to all local, state and federal partners who have helped my office with animal cruelty and animal fighting cases, especially Michelle Welch, who is the head of my Animal Law Unit and one of the best known prosecutors in the animal law field."

Below are the Humane Law Enforcement Award recipients:

  • Michelle Welch, Senior Assistant Attorney General and Head of the OAG Animal Law Unit
  • Kelci Block, Assistant Attorney General
  • DGIF Special Agents

“The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) applauds Attorney General Herring and his incredible team for their work to secure convictions in these cases," said Matthew Gray-Keeling, Virginia State Director for The HSUS. “These convictions clearly demonstrate the cruel, inhumane nature of fox penning and the illegal activity that can accompany it. We sincerely appreciate Attorney General Herring's work to strictly enforce Virginia's laws and shut down these illegal and inhumane operations."

In July 2018, Attorney General Herring's Animal Law Unit secured guilty pleas from nine individuals as part of a sweep targeting fox pens stocked with illegal wildlife, following a two year investigation. Additionally, five fox pens in Buckingham, Appomattox, Dinwiddie, King and Queen, and Brunswick have had their permits revoked or surrendered for stocking their pens with illegal wildlife.


“We are proud of the dangerous and tireless work conducted by our special agents who successfully inserted them into this environment of criminal activity. Their attention to detail and full understanding of the law allowed them to collect and present the evidence necessary to ensure convictions and suspensions. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries takes the unlawful commercializing of wildlife very seriously,"said DGIF Acting Director Gary Martel.

Fox penning, which is being phased out in Virginia under compromise legislation pushed by Attorney General Herring in the 2014 General Assembly session, can become unlawful when operators put illegal foxes and coyotes into a fenced in area and allow dogs to chase – and sometimes kill – the wild animals. The practice also has been known to deviate from training of hunting dogs to include gambling and competitions to see whose dog can catch the confined fox.

Attorney General Herring and the ALU previously received the Humane Law Enforcement Award in 2015 for its work to shut down and prosecute the operators of the “Big Blue" cockfighting operation in Virginia and Kentucky. Following a May 2014 raid, the operators of the cockfighting ring pled guilty to several crimes including conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling enterprise, illegally conducting cockfights, and drug distribution. Operators were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 – 18 months and forfeited cash and assets connected to the ring.

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.


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