Unleashed Fury

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Two months after the murder, Staunton, Va., still grieves the loss of its most beloved resident—Mosby the dog, an ultrafriendly 100-lb. malamute-husky mix who presided as the town's unofficial mascot. Folks would come into town to borrow him for walks; workers kept treats for him in their desks. "Tourists would come in the store and meet Mosby, then run out and buy a disposable camera so they could take pictures of themselves with him," says shop owner Sue Berntson. "He was beyond special."

On Aug. 8, Mosby was allegedly shot and killed by James Coleman, 67, a gunsmith, when the dog wandered onto his property. Most of Staunton was stunned and outraged. "When I found out what happened," says Carole Adams, 55, Mosby's owner, "I told my husband [Coleman had] picked the wrong dog to kill." Coleman was originally charged with a misdemeanor, which could bring a year in jail and or a $1,000 fine. Prosecutor A. Lee Ervin says he'd decided to charge Coleman under a new Virginia law that makes it a felony to willfully kill a companion animal—that is, a pet dog or cat. (Forty-one states have adopted such laws in the last 10 years.) But just to make sure, the Adamses and dozens of angry town residents rallied outside Staunton's courthouse. The charges were upgraded. "We need to take a stand," says resident Tiffany Kyle. If indicted by a grand jury scheduled to meet later this month and convicted, Coleman could receive a maximum prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $2,500. (Coleman and his attorney have declined to comment on the case.)

"This is going to be the shot heard round the world," vows Adams. "I'm not letting Mosby die without making his life mean something." Adds her husband, Johnny, 63: "I thought we owned Mosby. Now I realize he belonged to all of Staunton."

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