A Virginia judge has ruled that an animal activist will be prosecuted on charges of felony theft after she was found in possession of a hunting hound that not only didn’t belong to her, but happened to be owned by a local sheriff’s deputy who stopped her for questioning.

The Associated Press reports that Andrea Florence Benoit, 25, an employee of the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was working in Southampton County in October 2006 when she allegedly loaded a Walker hound into a company van after removing and discarding its radio tracking collar. Peta2

A motorist who witnessed Benoit and an associate pick up the dog notified Southampton County Deputy Sheriff J.T. Cooke Jr., who also serves as an animal control officer for the county.

In a delicious irony that makes the story an especially savory one, when Deputy Cooke stopped the PETA van, he recognized his missing hound that had failed to return from a fox-hunting trip the previous night. Court records indicate that Benoit initially denied having just picked up a dog.

According to the report, the dog carried dye markings of numbers on its side and “JT”on its hip and wore a neon yellow collar bearing Cooke’s name and cell phone number.

In a hearing held Tuesday, a PETA attorney claimed the two employees were following policy by not directly contacting the owner, maintaining that the organization’s main office would have contacted Cooke later.

Intentions aside, General District Judge Robert B. Edwards didn’t buy it, saying that even if Benoit believed she was doing the right thing, “the right thing in this case was a felony.”

See you in court, PETA.