The pitbulls who attacked and killed their 22-year-old owner had been well taken care of for most of their time with her, but had endured a “dramatic lifestyle change” in the weeks before they killed their owner, say a police sergeant and an animal trainer with knowledge of the investigation.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Bethany Lynn Stephens was found dead in a wooded area in Virginia last Thursday, with her two pitbulls “guarding” her dismembered body. She had gone missing earlier in the week after taking her dogs for a walk, and her father discovered the body after he went searching for her.
Certified master dog trainer Valerie Paul told WTVR that she believes an uncomfortable lifestyle change may have affected the dogs’ disposition. While she did not know Stephens or her dogs — Tonka and Pac Man — Paul is familiar with the case due to information released by investigators, and has testified in numerous court cases involving canine violence.
“Most dogs aren’t going to just turn on an owner,” Paul told the news outlet.
“As more and more details come out, I think there probably was some sort of outside influence, but not necessarily another animal or anything like that – just something that could have enticed the dogs to get overexcited and react the way dogs will.”
Indeed, Tonka and Pac Man had reportedly been staying with Stephens’ father as the young woman was experiencing some personal troubles. Prior to that, the pitbulls — who were from the same litter — had spent most of their time with Bethany, who adopted one when he was eight weeks old and the other from an abusive home. She would often take the dogs to work with her.
But the circumstances had changed for the dogs. Sergeant Mike Blackwood told WTVR that the victim’s father “wasn’t taking care of them – it wasn’t his responsibility.”
The pitbulls had reportedly gone from living indoors to being kept outside in kennels “in the cold,” Sgt. Blackwood said. They were not fed daily, and only saw Bethany when she visited, about five times a week.
“This was such a huge lifestyle change,” Sgt. Blackwood said, explaining that the pitbulls were a “little bit neglected towards the end of this.”
“The breed in and of itself is a high energy breed, they like to have a lot of structure and a lot of exercise, so by keeping them in a pin, alone, under socialized, away from people, that energy is just building up and building up and building up and that’s when you start to see dogs fighting more regularly, that’s when you start to see more negative scenarios,” Paul said.
Investigators still don’t know precisely what triggered the attack, but as CrimeOnline previously reported, have no doubts that they are responsible for Stephens’ death.
On Monday, Sheriff James Agnew gave a press conference in response to speculation that Stephens may have been a victim of foul play another animal, revealing grisly details that helped convince investigators that the pitbulls attacked their owner.
“I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs, the dogs eating the ribcage on the body. The injuries were very severe,” Agnew said.
“The medical examiner… made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal because the bite wounds didn’t puncture her skull … There were also scratch marks consistent with a smaller animal than something like a bear.”
The pitbulls have since been euthanized.
[Feature image: Facebook/Bethany Stephens]