Losing a Friend, Leaving a LegacyJuly 7th, 2003
(Charleston, West Virginia) Tracy Carbasho says she can still hear the roaring engine of the car that killed her dog Groucho — and almost killed her. The car struck Carbasho and her eight-year-old terrier/spaniel mix as they walked with a neighbor near their Follansbee, W.V., home two years ago.
“The car sped toward us so fast we didn’t have a chance to get out of the way before it hit us,” says Carbasho, a 38-year-old freelance journalist. “Then it just kept on going.”
Though she suffered multiple wounds, including contusions and injuries to her neck, knees and back, Carbasho refused treatment when an ambulance appeared on the scene. She was more concerned about Groucho, staying by his side as he was transported to an animal hospital. He didn’t make it.
“I’ve never encountered anything as horrible as watching my best friend die in my arms,” Carbasho says.
That painful memory will haunt Carbasho for the rest of her life. But there’s another legacy of that tragic night, one that will benefit animals for years to come: a series of dramatic improvements to West Virginia’s animal protection laws. Authored by ALDF and championed by Carbasho, the provisions were signed into law March 11, 2003.
Before Groucho’s death, Carbasho had no idea how desperately her home state needed to strengthen its animal protection statutes.
“Within days of the incident, I began researching the state laws to see if the defendant could be charged with some type of animal cruelty,” Carbasho says. “It was truly amazing and appalling to see how archaic the laws were. There was nothing on the books to cover a horrible incident like mine.”
Shocked by this discovery — as well as many other deficiencies in the state's animal protection laws — Carbasho contacted ALDF. Before long she was working with Stephan Otto, the Anti-Cruelty Division’s director of legislative affairs, to create a bill that would strengthen the state’s animal protection laws. That bill, dubbed the Groucho Act, began making the rounds of legislators’ offices in the spring of 2002. Carbasho hit the same circuit, making frequent trips to Charleston, the state capital, to educate lawmakers about the bill’s importance.
“It was a real rollercoaster,” she recalls. “One day we’d have good news, the next day bad news. It was really grueling both emotionally and physically.”
Ultimately, the legislative session ended before the bill could be passed. But Carbasho and Otto tried again the next year with a slightly revised Groucho Act, and this time they succeeded. The new law came too late to have an impact on Groucho's case — the defendant was sentenced to five days in jail for injuring Carbasho, but went unpunished for killing Groucho. But in the future individuals who abuse animals in West Virginia will face stiffer penalties, including the possibility of felony sanctions. (For more information on the state’s improved laws, click here.)
“Tracy proves that one person really can make a difference,” says Otto. “Her persistence and drive should be an inspiration to animal advocates across the country.”
“Working on the legislation was the light at the end of the tunnel that kept me going when the days seemed darkest and I missed Groucho the most,” Carbasho says. “Changing the law allowed me to do something productive that would serve as a permanent memorial and tribute to Groucho.”
To learn more about what you can do to strengthen animal protection laws in your community, click here.