Remembering SarahPosted by Roxanna Nematollahi, Criminal Justice Program Database Manager on June 2, 2010
On May 24, we lost a fellow advocate in the effort to improve the legal status of animals. Sarah Scheele was not someone who sought notoriety as an animal rights activist. In fact, six years ago, she was living a fairly quiet life that was suddenly changed forever in a matter of minutes. While on her way to a family gathering in Vermont with her husband and two dogs, her dog Shadow was fatally shot. Still reeling from the shock, she called the Animal Legal Defense Fund with a lot of questions about what she could do, and she began a journey navigating the legal system, which she was surprised to find had little regard for animal victims beyond their status as property. She and her husband Denis considered their two dogs to be their children, and they were determined to seek justice and build a legacy for their beloved Shadow by improving the way the law treats animals.
First, the Scheele’s pressured the criminal justice system to convict the perpetrator on a charge of animal cruelty. Then in a heroic effort to use Shadow’s case to move the law forward for all animals, the Scheele’s pursued a civil case to seek non-economic damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship. Being on the cutting edge of change in the legal system, their case had its ups and downs, and the Scheele’s were sometimes thrust into a media spotlight, which they handled with incredible grace, always focusing on their goal to improve the lives of animals. They took their case all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court where it was decided on May 21.
Although the Scheele’s lost their civil case, I know if Sarah were here, she’d be sorting out why the case was lost and asking questions about what could be done now to improve the legal status of animals. And then she would have her next plan. Giving up was not part of her playbook.
Sarah’s generous spirit was evident in her private life as well. During the past six years, she adopted three more dogs and was the caregiver for her elderly father. When a neighbor moved away, abandoning his two dogs, Sarah took them in and cared for them until she could find good homes for them. She volunteered at Little Ben’s Annual Cruise fundraiser for ALDF. For years she and Denis sponsored Midshipmen from the nearby Naval Academy.
I mourn her passing because she had such a positive spirit, and I know that animals would have continued to benefit from her generosity and her persistence in advocating on their behalf. She has been an inspiration for everyone whose life she touched.