As an assistant district attorney in the Special Victims Unit, Abby Wallace spends most of her time prosecuting cases against sexual assailants, physical abusers, and people who harm kids or the elderly. But there are some other "special victims" that are near to Wallace's heart: animals.
Wallace, who recently prosecuted one of the three defendants in the 2009 Memphis Animal Services (MAS) starvation case, was named one of "America's Top Ten Animal Defenders of 2013" by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) last week.
In 2009, former shelter director Ernest Alexander, former shelter supervisor Tina Quattlebaum, and former MAS veterinarian Angela Middleton were charged with animal cruelty, following an investigation by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office that revealed dogs dying of starvation. Wallace prosecuted Middleton, who was acquitted, in October, and she'll be handling the other two cases later this spring.
Wallace has worked for the D.A.'s office since 2007, when she moved to Shelby County from Colorado Springs.
Flyer: Are animal abuse cases included in the Special Victims Unit?
Abby Wallace: I started doing animal abuse cases when I worked in the Special Prosecution Unit. Since I'm an animal lover, I tended to get those cases. The Special Prosecution Unit deals with repeat violent offenders in Shelby County. But we also dealt with regular cases [involving first-time violent offenders].
What inspired you to go into prosecution?
I wanted to save the world and make it a better place.
What's the status of the other two upcoming Memphis Animal Services cases?
I'll be working on the Ernest Alexander and Tina Quattlebaum cases, but they have not been set for trial yet. Our intention is to next try Mr. Alexander, but the defense attorney on that case had some health issues. He's been out of commission for a couple of months. So we're next set on that case March 19th. Hopefully, on that date, we'll get a trial date. The case started in September 2009, and it went through a few prosecutors before it ended up with me.
As an animal lover, was it hard to face those pictures of starving dogs day after day during the Angela Middleton trial?
It's hard to look at those pictures and to know the suffering those animals have been through. But that's my inspiration to work hard on the cases and do the very best I can to try and get justice for the animals.
Do you have a background in animal law?
I don't. My emphasis in law school was on environmental law, so it's just something that I started doing. As an animal lover, I care a lot about these cases and want to work on them despite how gruesome they can be sometimes.
How do you feel about the Top 10 honor?
I was surprised and very excited. I think ALDF does a lot of good work. They are very vocal about working within the system on animal cruelty issues. For them to think that what I do here in Memphis is worthy of national recognition made me very excited.
I've heard that you have six cats. What role do pets play in your life?
We always had pets growing up. We mostly had dogs then. I started getting kitty cats when I was in law school. With my lifestyle and as many hours as I work, it's not easy for me to get out and walk a dog. Kitty cats are a little more low-maintenance.
And you also volunteer with the House of Mews?
I've been doing that for almost three years. I work there two days a week. I do adoptions and retail one day a week, and one day I am part of the care crew. I go in and clean litter boxes and give medications. I do vet runs.