WEST JEFFERSON-A local animal rights activist was charged with second degree trespassing on Feb. 5.
Lisa Fitzpatrick, 50, of Todd, was charged after videos she allegedly posted to Facebook of a Lansing man’s dogs and property went viral.
Fitzpatrick, who also goes by Lisa Neyland Delaurentiis Fitzpatrick, was released from the Ashe County Detention Center the same day after posting a $500 secured bond, according to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams.
“The property owner, Daniel Cruz, came to see me this morning (Feb. 5) and he was livid,” Williams said. “He said he works in Boone and that that business had been flooded with calls from people demanding that he be fired, that his boss man had been getting calls all day long from these nutcases from across the country.”
Those calls may have been prompted by a viral video posted publicly to Facebook on Feb. 4, by Fitzpatrick which appears to show a person walking up to a chain link enclosure that includes three barking dogs sitting on the roof of a doghouse. Williams said the video was taken on Cruz’s property, and said it was the video that prompted Cruz to bring the trespassing charge against Fitzpatrick.
“This is OK in our county,” the person filming the video said. “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.”
By Saturday, that video had been viewed more than 55,000 times. Commenters below the Facebook status listed the property owner’s place of employment and urged people to contact that business and local authorities.
Beagles in good condition
The Director of Ashe County Animal Control, Joe Testerman, said he visited the property on the same day that Facebook video was posted. He said the dogs in question were in no immediate danger, and a note was left for the property owner to call Testerman’s office.
“I’m sure Lisa will probably disagree with me, but the dogs were fat and there were no signs of distress and they were dry and clean,” Testerman said. “Yes there was some mud and standing water in one of the pens. We’d just had heavy rains and let’s be real, you’re going to see a lot of water in that situation, but the dogs had a house and they had an opportunity to get out of that. I saw no reason to take the dogs.”
Testerman said his office has periodically received complaints about that Lansing property in the past, and he said the dogs’ owner had been investigated on cockfighting charges several years ago.
“But he’s never had any other charges brought onto him,” Testerman said. “Every time we’ve visited in the past we’ve seen a few little things that we think need to be fixed, maybe straw or wood chips that can help keep a pen from turning into a mud hole, but those are suggestions and it’s never rose to a level where I can take somebody’s dog.”
‘Not right’ to tether
In recent weeks Fitzpatrick has worked to organize a downtown West Jefferson doghouse protest. She said it’s a way to bring attention to the plight of dogs who spend much of their lives tethered to a tiny patch of ground. Other states have laws that specifically address how long a dog can be kept inside an enclosure or tethered, but North Carolina and Ashe County do not.
And Friday isn’t the first time Fitzpatrick has tried to spur authorities to take action to try and improve the life of an animal. On Jan. 23, during the season’s first major snowstorm, Fitzpatrick posted a video on Facebook of a Ridgecrest Drive husky confined to a chain link fence cage. She said the video appeared to show the dog out in the cold and in distress.
That information was passed on to Testerman and Ashe County Animal Control through the county’s 911 dispatch center, but animal control took no immediate action on the report, according to Testerman.
But soon after the video was posted online, Ashe County Sheriff James Williams said his office’s 911 communications office was flooded with calls about the dog from as far away as California, New York and Florida.
“Here it is one of the nastiest days of the year and we’ve got dispatchers trying to direct medics all over the place and they’re being overwhelmed by rude callers from all over about this dog,” Williams said. “So a West Jefferson officer went to check on the dog. Turns out it’s an indoor dog that they placed in a kennel in the backyard and it wanted out to go play with the family in the front yard.”
When she found out the dog was alright – and following a call from Williams – Fitzpatrick said she removed the video from Facebook and asked other animal advocates to cease calling local dispatchers.
Let the authorities handle it
Williams and Testerman said they urged Fitzpatrick and others concerned about animal welfare to contact the authorities and never venture onto someone else’s property.
“Some people do not react well when they see somebody they don’t know walking, who has no right to be there, walking around on their property and taking pictures,” Williams said. “It’s a bad idea. Don’t do it.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.