A family from Rural Retreat, Virginia, is offering a $1,000 reward for information on a missing bear hound who was taken from the side of the road by three women in a maroon van with Florida license plates on Saturday. Rocky Deel and his 11-year-old son Charlie had collected five of their six dogs after an unsuccessful day of bear hunting in Speedwell around Hale Lake when they realized the sixth dog, a “blue English” coonhound named Ringo, was nowhere to be found. Then they got a call from a family friend and fellow hunter.
“He said [Ringo] was out on Route 21,” Rocky tells Outdoor Life. “By the time we get down off the mountain and get to where he was at, we can’t find the dog but we’re still picking up the signal from the collar. Well, we end up finding the collar laying in the ditch.”
The hunter who had called Rocky had actually spoken with the women on the side of the road, who had sworn they would drive Ringo into cell phone service and call the Deels using the number on Ringo’s collar. So the hunter drove away, leaving Ringo with the women. But Rocky never heard from them. Now, he and his family suspect the women thought they were “saving” Ringo from a neglectful home where he was forced to hunt.
Meanwhile, the Deels are reeling—especially Charlie.
“This just broke his heart,” Rocky says. “He loves the dogs. He would help me do the feeding, but now he’s telling me he can’t help me feed without Ringo being there. It just didn’t feel right.”
Bear hunting with hounds is legal in Virginia and other states. It’s often controversial, however, and in Vermont, for example, bear hounds and their owners have been attacked by anti-hunting activists in the past. But Rocky says he’s never had any conflicts with anyone else over the practice.
“Around here, everybody hunts. It’s a hunting community,” Deel says. “And for the most part you don’t have any trouble. We’ve never had any issues with anyone. But [the other hunter] did say [the women] were going on about how they think hunting is cruel, and that we make these dogs hunt. So I don’t know if they thought I was being cruel to the dog, but these dogs are bred for this. You don’t make them hunt.”
Surely these women didn’t consider the legal implications of their actions. Stealing a dog in Virginia is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Additionally, removing a GPS collar from a dog is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could get them another year in jail or a $2,500 fine. Interference with lawful hunting is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which might tack on an additional $500 fine.
The Deels made a Facebook page where they are collecting information on Ringo’s whereabouts. They have also filed police reports, contacted law enforcement in multiple counties, and have reached out to every dog rescue and shelter in the area.
“I’ve been out every day from daylight to dark searching for him,” Rocky says. “That’s what I’m actually doing right now. I’m just trying to find the van, or hoping they would have let him out somewhere. But with the reward, I’m hoping somebody will talk sooner or later.”