Niko – The Dog Facing Execution in VA without Evidence of Wrongdoing

by Denise Carey-Costa

A tragic turn in the case regarding Niko the Staffordshire Terrier in Albemarle County Virginia has animal lovers, Pit Pull Advocates, and many others devastated. The dog and his owners Toni Stacy and Audrey Wells have been living a nightmare since December 2014 when Niko was accused of killing a cat.

To date, no evidence and no witnesses have surfaced proving Niko was the culprit in the cat killing nor was a necropsy ever performed on the cat to prove cause of death.  The cat’s owners have even admitted they did not see Niko kill their pet.niko-and-toni

Since that day in 2014, Niko has been imprisoned at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA while his case has gone through the Albemarle County General District Court, Albemarle County Circuit Court, the Virginia State Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court. 

However, despite lack of evidence and the fact that a dog behaviorist assessed Niko during his stay at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA and deemed him non-aggressive, Niko has been sentenced to die.

The decision-maker who handed down Niko’s death sentence on December 8th, 2016 is Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Chery Higgins.

However, Toni and Audrey and Niko’s 6,500 supporters are not going to let him go without a fight.

Elliott Harding, Niko’s family’s attorney filed a motion in court on Friday December 16th, 2016 asking the court for an injunction to spare Niko’s life. The motion requests a temporary suspension of the first court ruling from July 2015 that deemed Niko vicious and charged Tony Stacy $4,100.00 in restitution. The motion argues that because Niko is technically the property of Audrey Wells, Tony Stacy’s partner, his being put down would be an “unconstitutional deprivation of property in violation of due process” because Wells was not provided a chance to defend Niko and argue as to why his life should be spared.

According to Harding “…. the lives of animals aren’t considered the same as the lives of humans in the court system, so they treat it like any other piece of property. This is a case where the facts were a little shady anyway. In the criminal case, as far as I understand, a cat was killed, no one saw the cat die, a dog was on the property and ultimately he fell victim.”

Another group fighting in Niko’s corner is “Against All Oddz” an animal shelter in upstate New York run by Matt Albert that is willing to take Niko in.  Albert, a New York Attorney is angered at the court’s decision to euthanize Niko when there is another viable option to spare the dog’s life.  

“It’s just bizarre that they can do such a thing and I’m hoping, at some point, their conscience kicks in and they do the right thing and allow us to take the dog,” Albert said.

Niko in Cage

Against All Oddz has sent certified letters to the Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci and to Judge Cheryl Higgins explaining their intention to take Niko in and their success rate in dealing with other dogs who have been accused of aggression or biting.

They further stated that Niko should be easy to work with and easily placed in a safe environment as other dogs in their care have successfully done in the past

To date Robert Tracci has not responded to this request nor has the court responded to the motion filed by Elliott Harding.

Niko supporters are hoping something will happen to save the doomed dog from execution on Sunday December 18th, 2016. They have organized a Peaceful Protest for that day starting at 1 pm at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. 3355 Berkmar Drive, Charlottesville, Virginia 22901.

For those that cannot attend, please call the Albemarle County Court House at 434-972-4083 and express your support for Niko and encourage Judge HiggIns to allow him to go to Against All Oddz Rescue.

Or sign Niko’s petition here:

It will cost the court nothing to send Niko to the upstate New York rescue but to execute him will cost the county taxpayers money. Killing is never justified no matter how the decision makers try to whitewash it.  

Unfortunately, this injustice is happening over and over again not only in this country but all over the world.  There is a certain breed specific prejudice and hysteria taking place which is causing countless dogs to be killed and the rights of their owners totally disregarded.

For updates on Niko and to show your support, visit the Facebook page Prayers for Niko/Niko Strong:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.     

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

About the Author

Denise Carey-Costa is a journalist, author, and award-winning documentary filmmaker. She was recently awarded the Best Producer Award from the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards for her latest film, Growing up with Hollywood (January, 2016). Her first film Tony’s Tale, Tragedy in Arizona (August 2014) was the winner of eight national film festival awards including several Audience Choice Awards. She has also written numerous children’s books promoting kindness and compassion for all creatures. Among her children’s books are A Tale of Three Tails, Edwin’s Flight, Lucky, and Angelina’s Angel. And her non-fiction piece Tony’s Tale Tragedy in Arizona. She lives in Orlando, Florida, where she works with local rescue shelters. 


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