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Virginia military veteran speaks out about service dog’s murder, justice ahead of court date

Crystal Graham
Joeseph Sande with Bear
Joeseph Sande with Bear, submitted

The case of a neighbor in Augusta County killing a service dog that belonged to a veteran new to the area officially begins the legal process on Tuesday, with the case scheduled to be heard at 1:30 p.m. in Augusta County General District Court.

Joeseph and Edith Sande have lived in fear the last two months after their neighbor, Louis Edward Davis, 67, was released on bond following an appeal in Augusta County Circuit Court. He was originally denied bond twice in district court.

Louis Davis faces a felony charge for animal cruelty and misdemeanor charge for the reckless handling of a firearm. A felony conviction could include one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

The Sandes said that Davis, and his wife, Teresa Griffin Davis, have defied court orders related to the bond, with Louis Davis regularly staying at his own home and visiting there, despite the court order which directed him to remain at his daughter’s house nearby until after the trial.

The Sandes and their neighbor, Renee Roberts, who also told AFP she has had run-ins with the Davises related to her dogs, were granted protective orders against the couple through the court date on Tuesday.

The Sandes said they have reached out multiple times to the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office regarding the violations, but no enforcement action was taken. The Sandes also don’t believe firearms have been removed from the home.

Shortly after the incident that resulted in their dog Buddy Bear’s death, Joeseph Sande said that Teresa Griffin Davis attempted to run him and his surviving husky, Hazel, down, near their mailbox. She will also appear in court related to those intimidation charges on Tuesday at the same time, according to court records.

The Sandes have beefed up security at their home fearing the Davises will retaliate against them even though they are the victims of this crime.

Bear was killed on Sept. 15 after escaping a fence at the Sandes’ new home and walking approximately six to eight feet to a road that runs alongside their property and separates their home from the Davises. Bear was shot and killed while standing in the road, paralyzed instantly, according to an examination performed after the dog’s death. Despite Joeseph’s attempts to rush Bear to the vet’s office, Bear died in the back seat of his truck on the 20-minute drive to Waynesboro.

To say the least, the Sandes beginnings here in Virginia have been marred by the death of a beloved dog, who by all counts, had helped keep Joeseph Sande alive in the aftermath of his service in Afghanistan, Bagram, Kuwait and Iraq, which has left him dealing with terrible nightmares and PTSD. Bear joined the Sande family in December 2020.

Without his service dog, Bear, Joeseph said, his wife, Edith, has had to step into a bigger caregiver role for him.

“Bear reminded me to take all my medication,” he said. “And he helped me with night terrors and to calm down from flashbacks. Now my wife has to deal with the nightmares. She ended up losing her job because I was constantly blowing up her phone, messaging her when things happened and when I had anxiety attacks.”

Edith Sande is taking time off from work to help Joeseph through this difficult time. She will likely return to her teaching career next year when school resumes. Joeseph’s job has thankfully been more understanding, allowing him to work from home on difficult days.

Edith said she is now Joeseph’s “safety plan.”

“It has to be where I have to be available for him to help him out with any episodes,” she said.

The Sandes don’t have any family within one thousand miles of their home.

Sitting at the kitchen table Friday night at their home on Rip Rap Road in Augusta County, picture frames sit behind them on the kitchen counter with photos of Bear.

This reporter was met by Hazel, their surviving husky, and two new dogs, Neeko and Miska.

Sandes with dog
Joeseph and Edith Sande with Miska, submitted

Neeko joined the family in early October because Hazel was sad after Bear’s death and in need of companionship. Then, approximately one month later, the Sandes welcomed Miska, a puppy, now three months old, who they hope to train to help Joeseph with his PTSD and related mental health issues. Training generally takes up to two years and will begin when the puppy is approximately six months old.

A Christmas tree was in the living room as the Sandes try to continue with a normal life, such as they can.

“I’ve been trying my best to feel happiness for the holidays,” Edith said. “It doesn’t feel the same … just all the memories that we had created with Bear, and the fact that this (the move to Virginia) was supposed to be a new great beginning, and now it’s more dreading each day. We’re just trying out best to take it day by day and focus on the positive things.”

Miska sat on Joeseph’s lap throughout much of the interview – likely providing comfort as the flood of bad memories came back related to Bear’s untimely and undeserved death.

“I almost guarantee that he’s (Davis) gonna retaliate. He’s gonna kill someone,” Joeseph said. “I mean, the first step for a killer is to kill animals.”

“I don’t know what that man can be capable of next,” Edith said. “And I don’t want to imagine.”

 

‘He’s not a hunter. He’s a killer.’ – Joeseph Sande

 

Joeseph is also angry that Teresa Davis tried to classify her husband as an avid hunter in the early bond hearings as some kind of justification for his actions.

“Hunters don’t leave their animals sitting there to bleed out and suffer. They end their life … fast. They respect the lives of the animals that they shoot,” Joeseph Sande said. “He’s not a hunter. He’s a killer.”

No matter what the verdict is for Louis Davis, the punishment will not be enough in the Sandes’ opinion.

The Sheriff’s Office, Commonwealth Attorney’s office and victim advocate have tried to prepare the couple for the possibility that Davis may not face jail time despite the heinous and unprovoked crime.

“Apparently the jails are too crowded to even consider sending somewhere there responsible for killing a dog, because apparently that’s not bad enough to put them in jail as opposed to someone doing drugs,” Joeseph told AFP. “I feel like as long as he’s (Davis) convicted of a felony, and he loses his right to firearms, that would help us feel better.”

 

‘It’s just kind of become part of us where we just have to be okay with not being okay.’ – Edith Sande

 

Edith Sande agrees with her husband.

“I feel like once this case is over, everyone’s going to still have a bad memory of the situation,” Edith Sande said. “And I think everyone else would feel safer knowing there are no firearms at his reach. We do not feel safe. It’s still hard for us to sleep consistently, and it’s just kind of become part of us where we just have to be okay with not being okay.”

“It’s almost like being on another deployment,” Joeseph said. “I have to watch my back out there because some guy decided to shoot my dog for no reason.”

The Sandes don’t know if their future will include Augusta County or Virginia or if they will pack up and move elsewhere. It’s too early for them to make any decisions of this magnitude. They want justice for Bear, and they will likely seek a civil judgement against Louis Davis after the criminal trial is completed.

“It’s been really hard for us to stay here with all the memories,” Joeseph Sande told AFP. “So I can’t say for sure if we’re gonna be here longer or not.”

Edith said she worries that Louis Davis will go home after the court case.

“It makes you worry a lot,” she said.

New outdoor cameras help the young couple keep an eye on the surviving dogs when they are outside and not with them.

Hazel is also likely dealing with some PTSD herself after the death of Bear.

“Hazel is scared to even go near the fence,” Joeseph Sande said. “She was there the day that Bear was killed. And if Nikko gets near the fence, she corrects them. Same with Miska. She tells them to get away from it. She’s the protector for them.

“I’m not worried about them (their dogs) getting out of the fence,” he said. “I’m more worried about him (Davis) coming to our fence.”

The Sandes are grateful to people who donated to the GoFundMe set up to help them with expenses related to security for their home.

“It really shows the great character of people in Augusta County and just all over the state,” Edith Sande said. “We know there are good people out there.”

The Sandes are also thankful that a deputy recently returned Bear’s ashes after the necropsy was completed.

Through the help of Luke’s Wings, a charity that helps veterans in crisis with travel, the Sandes are planning a memorial service of sorts for Bear to celebrate the holidays and remember Bear. They have erected a small cross where Bear died that has his name “Buddy Bear” on it, and his birth date and murder date. The organization is flying a former service mate in from Guam and a cousin to take part in the service during the holidays.

Almost two months since the fatal day for the Sandes, they will have their day in court this week.

“I have spoken with Mr. Davis’ new attorney, Scott Hansen, several times, but he has not indicated to me whether his client plans to put the preliminary hearing on or not,” said Augusta County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Powers in an email to AFP on Monday.

According to Powers, on felony cases, the defendant has the right to a preliminary hearing where the judge can decide if there is probable cause. If there is probable cause, the case is sent to circuit court where it is reviewed by the grand jury. Following the grand jury review, the case can be set for a guilty plea, a bench trial with a judge or a jury trial.

A defendant can also waive the preliminary hearing which immediately sends the case to circuit court.

The Sandes hope those who advocate for dogs and animals throughout the state will turn out to the court hearing to show support for Bear.

“We appreciate the support from everyone,” Joeseph Sande said. “That’s probably the only reason we’re still here.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.