Matthew Don Blackwell ...

NORTH TAZEWELL, Va. – A local man who told deputies that the Centers for Disease Control advised him to strangle his infected dog is now facing an animal cruelty charge in Virginia.

The case started when the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office received a call from witnesses who saw a man choking his dog, Sheriff Brian Hieatt said.

"We responded, and it was Sgt. Scott Davis who actually responded along with another one of my animal control officers," Hieatt said Wednesday. "They went to the residence of Matthew Don Blackwell, 32, of Creekside Road in the North Tazewell area."

Hieatt said Blackwell was at his home Jan. 8 when Davis and the animal control officer arrived to investigate.

"He was the owner of the dog and upon questioning, he admitted that he had strangled the dog," Hieatt stated. "He led my officers to a trash can in the back where there was a black and yellow pit bull that was deceased."

A veterinarian told investigators that the cause of death was strangulation.

"His excuse to the officers was that he was told the dog was infected and he had to strangle it," Hieatt said. "He actually said a woman with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) told him to strangle the dog. He said they said that was the preferred way to kill the dog."

Blackwell was taken into custody and charged with animal cruelty. He was placed on a $2,000 secure bond, Hieatt said.

Blackwell is currently free on bond, according to records at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority.

According to the Tazewell County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, Blackwell has been charged with felony torturing animals causing death. It is a Class 6 felony with a possible sentence of one to five years in prison.

Hieatt said the pit bull "was just a pet."

"We take calls about animal abuse very seriously here in Tazewell County and we do appreciate it when citizens call in to let us know when they suspect abuse has happened," he said.

The sheriff's office never had any complaints about the dog before the Jan. 8 incident.

"We never had calls from any of the neighbors or calls about any concern," Hieatt stated. "As far as we know, this was not a dangerous dog at all and we never had any complaints about it."

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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