By Joe Beck
When Russell Ebersole appears in Judge Clifford L. "Clay" Athey's courtroom today in Frederick County for sentencing on several animal abuse convictions, he will be facing a judge who was the intended recipient of an online petition from thousands of angry animal lovers demanding the maximum sentence.
It is unknown whether Athey ever received the petition that was sent to him by email and through the U.S. Postal Service in the last week. Autumn Anderson, who created the petition, said Thursday she has received no reply from the judge.
Athey, like all judges, is bound by professional ethics not to tip his hand about a pending decision before he has had a chance to hear arguments from both sides.
Anderson, on the other hand, faces no such inhibitions. She wants to ensure that Ebersole, owner of Aberdeen Acres Pet Care Center in Stephenson, never interacts with dogs or other animals again.
"The main concern is that he lose contact with animals, lose his license to operate a kennel, to train anything," Anderson said. "The jail time or the fines don't concern me personally. It's the contact with the animals I'm concerned about."
Ebersole incurred the wrath of 3,130 signatories to Anderson's petition, some of them from as far away as Australia, Africa and the United Kingdom, after pleading guilty in early October to four counts of animal cruelty stemming from his treatment of dogs kept at his kennel.
His attorney described Ebersole's plea as similar to an Alford plea in which the defendant acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him, but continues to maintain his innocence.
Cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence on each count of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Anderson, 34, of Waynesboro, said she had two birds, a dog and two stray cats around her home.
"I can't imagine life without a pet, any kind of pet," Anderson said. "It would be pretty boring."
Anderson was born and raised in Winchester and delivered pizzas to Aberdeen Acres in one of her jobs.
Anderson saw no signs of animal abuse at the kennel on her pizza deliveries, although the place "felt cold" to her, she said.
Her petition is posted at www.change.org., a web site that serves as a kind of clearing house for petitions encompassing a wide range of causes.
The petition, first posted on Oct. 26, is addressed to Athey with a short, simple message: "Give Russell Ebersole the maximum penalty for animal cruelty."
Anderson said she posted the petition after Ebersole's crimes came to her attention on her mother's Facebook page.
"I couldn't believe it happened in my own hometown," Anderson said. "You hear of it from faraway. I thought of a lot of things -- anger, hurt, sadness. I didn't sleep for a couple of days."
She posted some material about Ebersole on her own Facebook page, which caught the attention of someone from Canada who suggested she start a petition on change.org.
"Any kind of support I'm happy with," Anderson said of the response she received. "Just the fact that 3,100 people from all over the world looked at it is amazing."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org