Potomac News Online | Wolf rescue founder charged

The founder of Black Wolf Rescue shelter in Triangle was charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty Tuesday.

Robert Clifton Artois, 56, was arrested Tuesday morning, Prince William Police Master Detective Samson Newsome said.

Additional charges may be pending. Authorities are awaiting the results of a necropsy, or animal autopsy, performed on a dog found dead at Artois’ home, said Newsome, head of the Prince William County Animal Shelter.

Animal control officers entered Artois’ 19325 Fuller Heights Road home and shelter after receiving a complaint of abandoned dogs April 18, according to documents filed with Prince William General District Court. The complainant told authorities that Artois was incarcerated in the Alexandria City Jail and had asked her to care for the animals until he was released.

Artois was held at the Alexandria City Jail for six days for contempt of court in a civil case, according to Alexandria City Jail records. He was released April 19.

The complainant told animal control authorities that there was a strong smell of animal urine and feces coming from the house and a large rodent problem was apparent inside, according to court documents.

Inside the house, surrounded by three acres on a hill, animal control officers discovered 25 dogs and wolves. Most of the dogs were locked inside crates and standing in their own waste, according to court documents. Four more dogs were found with no food or water in crates in a shed. One of the four was dead.

“They were not in the best condition. It warranted immediate attention and removal,” Newsome said. “The way they [the animal control officers] went in and the compassion I saw from them in handling these animals was amazing. The conditions were extremely harsh and unfavorable.”

The animals were taken to the county shelter, where a veterinarian was standing by to treat them, Newsome said. The dogs had a variety of medical problems, including skin ailments from their backs rubbing against crates that were too small, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sandra R. Sylvester.

According to court documents, 13 of the 28 dogs were wolves or wolf hybrids. The remaining dogs included German shepherds, cocker spaniels, a black Lab and a Jack Russell terrier.

One of the dogs died at the shelter, and another gave birth to a litter of puppies Friday. The county shelter didn’t have room for so many animals, but Newsome was able to make arrangements for some of the shelter’s adoptable animals to go to shelters in Manassas City and Fauquier, Fairfax and Loudoun counties to make room for the new arrivals.

“The conditions weren’t fit for man or animal,” said Sylvester, who accompanied the officers April 18 when they seized the dogs and took them to the shelter. “It broke my heart. I’m an animal lover.”

This isn’t Artois’ first contact with animal control officers. Artois was charged with one count of cruelty to animals in November 2004. The summons filed with Prince William General District Court noted unsanitary conditions, not providing adequate food, water or living space, but gave no other details. Artois is scheduled for a June court date in that case.

The Black Wolf Rescue was licensed by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the county. The rescue was still licensed with the USDA last week. An official at the USDA’s Animal Care Eastern Region office in Raleigh, N.C., wouldn’t release the status of Artois’ license or any additional information over the phone. Prince William County had issued Artois a kennel license for up to 12 dogs, Newsome said. He declined to comment on the status of Artois’ county license.

According to its Web site, http://www.blackwolfrescue.com, the shelter was “dedicated to the rescue and survival of abused and abandoned captive born wolves. Black Wolf Rescue saves the lives of wolves and wolf dogs in the Northern Virginia area.”

The site also describes the rescue’s ambassador program, which provided education about wolves and wolf hybrids. For several months, Artois showed his wolves at the Dale City Petco on Sundays, Petco manager Tony Fuentes said. A few times Artois offered Lab dogs for adoption, Fuentes recalled. Artois stopped coming about eight months ago.

“He just never showed up again,” Fuentes said. “He never gave any reason.”

In addition to providing photos and information about Artois’ wolves or wolf hybrids, the site solicited donations for the shelter. But that wasn’t Artois’ only dealings on the Internet.

In 2003, Artois was convicted of two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He met a 15-year-old boy on the Internet, according to documents filed with Prince William Circuit Court. Artois was sentenced to a suspended 24-month jail sentence, based upon successful completion of two years’ probation, according to Circuit Court records. Since Artois was still on probation when he was charged with animal cruelty, he could face probation violation proceedings if convicted, Newsome said.

Artois also had convictions for contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 1997 and felony larceny in 1983 in Fairfax County, according to a criminal record filed with Prince William Circuit Court.

Artois will be arraigned today on the animal abuse charges, Newsome said. Artois is also scheduled to appear in court Thursday on a petition seeking to transfer the dogs’ ownership to animal control authorities. Without the court order, the dogs and wolves can only be kept at the shelter for 10 days. A General District Court judge will hear the petition and determine if the dogs are to be returned to Artois or if the shelter can assess them for adoption, Newsome said.

None of the dogs is available for viewing or ready for adoption. The dogs have to be medically stabilized and then each will be assessed to determine if it is adoptable, Newsome said. He added that the dogs are not only victims, but also evidence in the ongoing criminal investigation.

“Some of them are probably not adoptable — we’re talking about the wolf hybrids,” Newsome said. “We have to make sure they are stabilized. … Dogs kept in this kind of situation can be very unpredictable.”

Artois’ home appeared to have a damaged roof. He rented the property from a Vienna company called Quantico Overlook LLC, according to court documents. The company sued Artois in March in small claims court for unpaid rent from December 2003 to January 2005. Friday, Prince William General District Court Judge Craig D. Johnston entered a $15,000 judgment against Artois for the unpaid rent. An official contacted at Quantico Overlook on Tuesday declined to comment.

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