JEFFERSON-Charges against a local animal rights activist who filmed a controversial viral video in February were dismissed last week.
That’s according to court records provided by the Ashe County Clerk of Court’s Office.
Lisa Fitzpatrick, 50, of Todd, was charged with second degree trespassing on Feb. 5, after videos she posted to Facebook of a Lansing man’s dogs and property went viral.
The video that kicked off the controversy were shot by Fitzpatrick and uploaded online Feb. 4. The video shows a person walking up to a chain link enclosure that includes three barking dogs sitting on the roof of a doghouse. The floor of the dog pen is muddy and temperatures at the time the video was shot were near – or below – freezing.
“This is OK in our county,” Fitzpatrick can be heard saying in the video. “I’ve been told Animal Control is on their way out, and see if the dogs are taken. I see no food or water anywhere.”
The video then pans out to show other animals on the property and the person filming the video said, “It’s OK baby. I’m going to try and get you out. These guys look it, look it. They can’t even get in the house. There’s nothing but muck. They can’t even get out of the wind or the cold because there is nothing. Nothing. But yet (the property’s owner is) probably going to get a notice and have a chance to fix the situation.”
That initial video, uploaded to Facebook and shared online by other activists, was viewed more than 80,000 in just two days. Outraged viewers called local officials and Ashe County Sheriff James Williams said county 911 operators were flooded with calls.
The dog’s owner, Daniel Cruz, told Williams that video was also the basis for the trespassing charges against Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, who also goes by Lisa Neyland Delaurentiis Fitzpatrick, was released the same day she was charged after posting bond. The case against her was later dismissed on March 4, following a hearing in court.
She said she’s relieved the case is now over, but said she never had any worries the charges against her would stand.
“I won’t say I wasn’t worried about the whole situation, but I never had any real doubt about the way the case would turn out because I was never on (Cruz’s) property,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I am glad that it’s over, yes.”
Month long investigation
After a month of investigation that consisted of frequent impromptu checks of the property and the animals in question, Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman told the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Monday that, in accordance with the law, his department found no evidence of mistreatment of animals by Cruz.
The controversy ignited by the video began with a simple complaint on Feb 4., by Fitzpatrick.
When animal control responded, they found no one was home and no found justifiable cause for a search warrant.
During the initial investigation, Testerman took pictures from the road of the property and the dogs. He observed two kennels that house five beagles and noticed standing water and mud in one of the kennels.
“From the road I could determine that all six dogs were in good physical condition and did have access to shelter,” Testerman said in a prepared statement to the board. “I could not determine if the dogs had access to food or water, but based on the conditions of the dogs I had to assume the dogs had been receiving regular care.”
On Feb. 5, Testerman returned to the property and found Cruz at home and spoke with him about the complaint.
“He gave me consent to inspect the property,” Testerman recalled. “I found that Mr. Cruz had already worked on improving the conditions of the kennel. He had bedded the kennel floors with hay and bedded the houses with cedar shaving. I then found a seventh dog tied out on the property, a male pug mix.This dog was also in very good physical condition and did have access to shelter, food and water.”
Testerman also noted that all seven dogs had access to food, shelter and water. He also said they had no signs of neglect or abuse.
Following the Feb. 5 visit, animal controlled visited Cruz and his dogs for five additional inspections.
Ultimately, no violations were found, but Testerman did advise Cruz on Feb. 22, to clean and maintain a muddy kennel.
“Animal control has been monitoring these seven dogs and chickens for one month and has established evidence that Mr. Cruz is maintaining his animals in conditions that are acceptable by law,” said Testerman. “Mr. Cruz has been very cooperative and has been very receptive to all of my requests. At this time Dan Cruz is deemed in compliance with Ashe County Ordinances and N.C. General Statutes.”
Cruz’s case magnified the alleged plight of animals countywide and has unified advocates in their pleas for changes to the county’s animal abuse ordinance.
“We all have a passion for animals,” said B.J. Pim, owner of Happy Tails Rescue, in her address to the board. “The way this was handled was not right.”
Pim said the county and supporting agencies need to “make baby steps” in creating more animal friendly guidelines and that she understands “things aren’t going to happen overnight” in regards to proposed changes.
“If you have to keep an animal chained, then why do you have it?” said Pim. “Being chained 24/7 is no life for an animal.”
In a phone interview Monday, Fitzpatrick echoed Pim’s concerns.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and the fact is that it just takes time for these issues to be resolved,” Fitzpatrick said. “And in the end, these problems we see on properties like Cruz’s, that’ll come out in the wash, too. But you’ve got animals that are suffering in the meantime while the county or the state slowly comes to the realization that this, this right here, is a problem.”
Fitzpatrick also said she understands Testerman and his officers are trained to recognize animal abuse, but would like to see the agency become more aggressive in how it deals with certain situations.
“I’ll admit there are gray areas sometimes,” Fitzpatrick said. “Animal Control might not quite see abuse and someone else might see it as that. In those cases, I’d hope they’d err on the side of caution.”
Reach Jesse Campbell or Adam Orr at 336-846-7164.