Marley's Law: A Fight to Change West Virginia's Animal Abuse Laws

HURRICANE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Six weeks ago, Ellen McElfish walked into something she never could have imagined.

Her son's three dogs, Charlie, Riley and Marley, were caged with no food or water. They all were emaciated.

It had been nearly three weeks since McElfish's son abandoned them. Drugs had taken over his life.

The house was hot, and the cages of Charlie, Riley and Marley were filled with fecal matter and maggots.

Riley was nursed back to health at Cross Lanes Veterinary Clinic.

Charlie was taken to be euthanized.

"They carried him out on the board, and the humane officer told us there was no hope for him," McElfish said. "He was thin, his face was bleeding, his mouth was bleeding, ulcers from dehydration (and) malnutrition. His eyes were matted with green, gunk."

The folks at the Putnam County Animal Shelter felt he was such a sweet dog they took a week to nurse him back to health.

"A week later, we got a phone call stating he was alive," McElfish said.

Marley didn't make it.

"This was a dog I took hiking with me in the mountains, was my little buddy," she said,

McElfish pressed charges against her son, all of which are misdemeanors.

"He is safe, away from drugs," she said. "My prayer for him is that he realizes what he has done and that he sees, but for him it's a misdemeanor. But in the future I want it to be a felony. I want to add on to these laws."

"Abandoned no food, no water, no cooling in the heat and to be imprisoned in the heat, and it's a misdemeanor?" she added.

That's why McElfish is proposing a law called "Marley's Law."

Her proposal would make neglect a felony. Right now, mistreatment, abandonment, not providing a pet with food or water, and abandoning and animal to die is a misdemeanor.

West Virginia Law 61-8-19 is the portion of the West Virginia Code pertaining to animal abuse -- intentional abuse of an animal, including torture and mutilation.

Though McElfish believes her son intentionally left the dogs, that is not taken into consideration by the law.

"Day after day, night after night, they sat there waiting for someone to come, for their owner that they had been so faithful to to save them, to do something for them, and it never happened," she said.

McElifsh is reaching out to lawmakers to make Marley's Law a reality. She realizes the fight could be a long one.

"A slap on the hand, it's all it gets is a slap on the hand," she said. "These are God's creatures. We have to be their voice. They cannot speak for themselves; we have to be their voice, and I am going to be Marley's voice until I get this law passed."


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