Michelle Welch – Assistant Attorney General
Michelle Welch has been an animal abuse prosecutor for thirteen years in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and one of the first animal abuse prosecutor in the state. She is currently an Assistant Attorney General in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. She handles all animal abuse cases for the office and is called upon by agencies all over the Commonwealth to act as a special prosecutor in animal cruelty and animal fighting cases. Michelle has been appointed a special Assistant U.S. Attorney to aid in dog fighting prosecutions and frequently gives advice to local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors from across the nation. She trains prosecutors, animal control and law enforcement officers on the state of animal law.
Michelle is the Vice President of the Virginia Animal Fighting Taskforce, a Board Member of VFHS, and a Vice-Chair of the Animal Law Committee of the ABA. She is also the Chair of the Animal Cruelty Advisory Committee for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), a senior faculty member for the APA, and serves as chair for their Annual National Animal Cruelty Conference. She is adjunct faculty for Animal Law at the University of Richmond Law School and William & Mary Law School, and has testified before a Congressional Caucus examining the enforcement of animal laws and the cooperation between state and federal partners. In 2008, she led efforts in strengthening the Virginia Animal Fighting Law and it is a model for the nation. In 2012, she was presented with the Albert Schweitzer Medal for her work on behalf of the animals by the Animal Welfare Institute.
In 2009, Michelle handled a “puppy mill” case and over 60 dogs were saved as a result of her efforts. In 2010, she prosecuted a fire captain for starving his 7 beagles and 1 Labrador retriever. Four of the animals were dead and four survived. She was successful in convicting him before a jury and he received the largest fine to date in Virginia. In 2012, Michelle prosecuted eight different animal abusers. Five were in Halifax County, one in Fairfax County and the state and federal case against a Nelson County man. Two defendants in Halifax County were convicted of cockfighting and one received jail time. In September 2012, Welch tried three codefendants for dog fighting and convicted them all.
In 2012, the state case against a Nelson County man netting jail time on the alcohol violations but being prohibited to own animals on the cruelty charges. Most importantly, Michelle helped save over 100 animals, including 50 hounds that were in different states of starvation and needing vet attention, as well as ducks, chickens, roosters, horses and pigs. The federal case is set for sentencing in April 2013. This investigation was historic involving many state and federal partners for the first time, and has now formed a model for future investigations.
Finally, in September 2012, Welch prosecuted a zoo director for drowning a wallaby in Fairfax, Virginia. The wallaby had injured his eye and the defendant did not want to treat it for its injury. Instead of humanely euthanizing it, she drowned the wallaby in a bucket of water. The Reston Zoo case was an advanced criminal case involving cruelty, necropsy experts, toxicologists, and computer forensic experts. The zoo director appealed her verdict, but in December she entered a plea agreement in Circuit Court accepting the sentence she received in lower court.