Commissioners plan review of animal abuse ordinance

JEFFERSON-Ashe County Commissioners will soon discuss what, if any, amendments are needed to the county’s animal abuse ordinances.

Although county officials have yet to finalize specifics, Commissioner Larry Rhodes said he feels “certain” that the matter will be discussed during an upcoming board meeting in March.

The need to address the long-standing ordinance arose from the fallout and continued controversy from a viral video posted by a local animal rights activist concerning the living conditions of three beagles earlier this month.

The video was posted on Facebook by Lisa Neyland Delaurentiis Fitzpatrick who lambasted the owner of the dogs for allegedly not tending to the animals’ basic needs.

Fitzpatrick was charged with second degree trespassing on Feb. 5 and was released after posting a $500 secured bond.

Since the video’s posting, Ashe County Animal Control says it has received countless phone calls from people outraged by the video’s contents.

The video in question appeared to depict three Beagles hovering on a plastic doghouse. The dogs appear clean in the the video, but the floor of their enclosure appears to be dirty.

Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman said that while the video showed unsatisfactory living conditions, Testerman said the dogs were in no immediate danger.

It appears county officials agree with him.

“I feel very good about Joe’s (Testerman) department,” said Rhodes. “They can only handle what is reported to them and what they do and what they see. I feel very confident that things are good based on his observations. I feel good about his judgment. I’m an animal rights lover as much as anyone. I just feel good about the decision and what he’s observed, not to say things like that (abuse) can’t happen.”

Rhodes added the board as a whole needs to “stay abreast” of what is going on with this situation.

He also said he could not think of a particular section of the ordinance that needs to be addressed immediately.

“I feel very good that what we’ve operated under a number of years is adequate,” said Rhodes. “If we need to review it then that would be our responsibility to take a look.”

Commissioners originally intended to visit the issue last week, but the board’s meeting was cancelled due to snow.

Commissioner Chairman Jeff Rose said he recently talked to County Manager Sam Yearick about the issue and looks forward to discussing it further.

Commissioner Gary Roark said he believes Ashe County Animal Control did “everything in its power” in addressing the situation appropriately.

“Based on the policies that the county has, none of the dogs’ (living conditions) were in violation,” said Roark. “I have five dogs myself; some Beagles and then a Blue Healer I keep outside. I have a floor in the my lot and I keep it clean. I’m not passing judgment, but looking at the dog lot (in the video) it’s mud, but he did put straw on it. I understand when it rains a lot there’s not a lot of things you have no control of.”

Roark added that he spoke with Rose Thursday night about the issue further. Roark said he wanted to discuss the matter in-depth with the county attorney and to see what all other 99 counties in the state have done in terms of their animal abuse ordinances.

Commissioner Brien Richardson said that he “needs to look into” the ordinance further before making any comment on whether changes to the ordinance are in order. He said he was pleased with how the situation was handled by animal control.

“The guy fixed and corrected it, so the process does work,” said Richardson.

Commissioner William Sands was not available for comment as of press-time.

Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.

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