Stanley man sentenced to 5 years for animal cruelty and teaching children to cockfight

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The Page County Sheriff’s Office confiscated 335 birds, many of which had been altered for fighting.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Dec. 20 — After the exposure of cockfighting operations in Page County more than a decade ago, Virginia imposed new animal fighting laws that drew attention nationwide. Now, once again, Page County is at the center of the cockfighting discussion as a Stanley man has received the largest sentence for cockfighting in the history of both the commonwealth and the nation.

Dale Comer Jr., 42, of Stanley, received a five-year jail sentence from Judge Clark Ritchie in Page County Circuit Court on Dec. 8. He was convicted of 26 counts of felony animal fighting, 20 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, and one count of felony drug possession. Additionally, Comer has 86 years of suspended time hanging over his head after he serves his five-year sentence, has a lifetime ban on owning animals of any kind, and was ordered to pay $29,714.51 in fees.

“Animal fighting of any kind is a heinous activity that puts innocent animals in dangerous, many times life-threatening, situations,” Attorney General Mark Herring stated in a Dec. 14 press release. “I created my Animal Law Unit to help put a stop to animal cruelty and fighting in the Commonwealth, and I am incredibly proud of their success over the past six years. I hope this strong sentence will send a message to anyone who plans to participate in cockfighting that it will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

When a USDA special agent went undercover and infiltrated the Little Boxwood cockfighting facility in Kite Hollow a few miles outside of Stanley in 2007, it began an investigation that would bring a dark part of the county’s past and present to light. After federal agents seized the property, “You eat KFC too” was spray painted on the interior walls of the red barn where cockfights drew visitors from as far away as Canada. Those who supported the activity felt cockfighting was part of their heritage, something that had been practiced for hundreds of years, and anyone who opposed it — and also ate chicken — was simply a hypocrite.

Comer fell into this category. Law enforcement had confronted him about his cockfighting “hobby” on more than one occasion. The Page County Sheriff’s Office confiscated 335 birds at Comer’s home in 2019, not far from Stanley Elementary School. Many of the birds had been “altered or dubbed” for fighting, according to the AG’s press release. Additionally, two of the animal fighting charges involved Comer allowing his children to be involved in animal fighting — even giving them birds of their own, teaching them how to train the birds, and taking them to cockfights in West Virginia and Kentucky.

According to evidence presented in court, Comer participated in cockfighting at his home on Aylor Grubbs Avenue. The Sheriff’s Office made three separate visits to Comer’s home, according to the press release, and each time they found that Comer had set up a cockfighting yard and found hens, roosters, and cockfighting paraphernalia including gaffes. On their final visit to Comer’s property, authorities also found a plastic bag with methamphetamine residue.

“I am proud of the leadership and the experience that I have in my Criminal Investigations Division, and the efforts they take to ensure quality case work and closure for victims involved,” Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage stated in a Facebook post. “I would also like to thank Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch for all of her hard work prosecuting this case. It was a major undertaking and incredible amount of teamwork.”

In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people. To date the unit has handled thousands of matters, including trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.

Comer’s case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch from Attorney General Herring’s award-winning, first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit with assistance from the Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the Page County Sheriff’s Office, the Stanley Police Department, the Virginia Animal Fighting Taskforce, the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, the Shenandoah Sheriff’s Office, the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, the Front Royal Police Department, the Warren County Sherriff’s Office, Page County Fire and EMS, the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, the Fredericksburg SPCA, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

An online search of Comer’s criminal record reveals a total of 57 case files in Page County Circuit Court for charges ranging from a rape charge he was acquitted of in 1999, to various other charges over the past two decades including pettit larceny, assault and battery, breaking and entering, brandishing a firearm and probation violations. The 57 charges include 45 related to animal cruelty and cockfighting activities filed between 2019 and 2021.



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