Beloved dogs that ate their owner, 22, were neglected, said police
Tonka and Pac-Man were treated like princes by their owner Bethany Stephens. But a couple of months ago, Stephens went through a divorce and had to move the dogs to her dad's house, where they became increasingly isolated.
Sergeant Mike Blackwood said that the dogs were a 'little bit neglected towards the end' because Bethany's father, John, didn't think it was his responsibility to take care of the dogs.
The dogs went from living inside to living in a cage outside 'in the cold'. The only time that they were fed or were able to interact with a human was when Bethany visited, about five times a week on average.
'She left the dogs with her father, her father was not taking care of the dogs,' Sgt. Mike Blackwood with the Goochland County Sheriff's Office explained. ' It wasn't his responsibility, and she would come home maybe five times to the father's house a week on average and take the dogs out.'
Certified master dog trainer Valerie Paul told WTVR that this was a 'huge lifestyle change for the two dogs, and certainly something that could have caused a 'negative scenario'.
'The breed in and of itself is a high energy breed, they like to have a lot of structure and a lot of exercise, so by keeping them in a pin, alone, under socialized, away from people, that energy is just building up and building up and building up and that's when you start to see dogs fighting more regularly, that's when you start to see more negative scenarios,' Paul said.
Bethany's body was found in the woods Thursday evening, a day after leaving the house to take the dogs for a walk.
On Monday, Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew ruled out foul play, describing the horrific scene he and his officers found.
'Let me cut right to the chase, the most important detail that we did not release because we were worried about the well-being of the family is that in the course of trying to capture the dogs early Friday morning, we turned and looked… I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs, the dogs eating the ribcage on the body,' Agnew told Pix 11. 'The injuries were very severe.
Agnew, who said that Stephens had already been dead when they found her, also described the blood covered scene, but said investigators had ruled out widespread suggestions that she could have been killed by a bear or coyote.
'There was no evidence of any larger animal there,' Agnew said. 'The medical examiner made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal because the bite wounds didn't puncture her skull.
'There were also scratch marks consistent with a smaller animal than something like a bear.'
Agnew said that they also didn't believe she'd been killed by a person.
The medical examiner ruled out with 'complete certainty' sexual assault, adding that they were no strangulation marks on her body.
Investigators had also spoken to witnesses and people known to Stephens, and 'people's movements... don't fit with that particular narrative.'
However, police are still investigating and are carrying out forensic tests.
Cops captured the dogs at the scene but the animals have since been euthanized, with the family's consent on Saturday.
'What I observed personally, it was in the community's best interest,' Agnew said. 'Once a dog tastes human flesh it is not safe to have that dog around humans.'
The police said they had decided to share more details on the case because of the rampant rumors and theories spreading through their community in the wake of Stephens' death.
Stephens' friend, Barbara Norris, told NBC12 that she didn't believe the dogs would kill Stephens and that they slept in her bed at night.
'Those dogs would not attack her,' she said. 'They'd kill you with kisses.'
Norris said that the dogs' kennels appeared to have been broken open, as if the dogs had escaped to help Stephens.
But the dogs — described as being 'very large, brindle-colored pit bull dogs' — were said to be aggressively guarding her body when Stephens' father came across them, according to Goochland County Sheriff James L. Agnew, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.
Initial medical examiner's reports indicated that Stephens, who stood 5-foot-1 and weighted 125 pounds, had defensive wounds on her hands and arms.
Her wounds, which also included puncture wounds in her skull, were consistent with having been mauled.
'The first traumatic injury to her was to her throat and face,' Agnew said, adding that, 'It appears she was taken to the ground, lost consciousness, and the dogs then mauled her to death.'
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