NC Department of Agriculture says that controversial animal advocates, Max and Della Fitz-Gerald, co-founders of For The Love Of Dogs NC, are not giving their dogs continuous water and even though the dogs may look healthy now, that practice could be harmful to them in the future. The Fitz-Geralds say they have never done anything to harm dogs.
Arguments in court on Wednesday focused on whether the Fitz-Geralds are in violation of the law that stipulates dogs housed at the no-kill shelter must be given continuous water. The fine that accompanies the violation is $200 per dog which totaled $10,800. Melissa Owens Lassiter, an administrative law judge, set the fine aside. The violation of the law stands. The Dept of Ag is appealing the Fitz-Geralds not paying the fine.
Local attorney Will Farris represents the Fitz-Geralds. Christopher McClennon, from the NC Department of Justice/Department of Agriculture, is the attorney for the state. “Fitz-Gerald was given a warning and chance to change and he continued to violate it (the law)” McClennon said in court. “It was a well-reasoned decision guided by statutory laws. Nobody should pick and choose which laws they will abide by.”
Farris argues that the law needs to be looked at again by legislators and that the Fitz-Geralds are harmed by the accusation that they violated the continuous water law. He opposes both the fine and that they violated the law. “We don’t disagree that there should be a law,” Farris reasoned. “The state does over 800 inspections and we applaud that.”
Farris said the law was intended for puppy mills and bad breeders, not law abiding rescue shelters who help dogs. Farris points out that hunters’ dogs don’t need continuous water according to that same law. “Can you put your dog in a kennel all day long without water? Yes,” Farris said. “That same law allows for a dog to be in a car for 12 hours without water.”
The Animal Welfare division of the N.C. Dept of Agriculture inspected FLOD in October of 2015. In that inspection animal welfare officials wrote that water they saw for dogs to drink in a horse trough was green with algae and warm to the touch. McClennon said Wednesday that harm would come to the dogs when they are exposed to that treatment day after day. “Water is an essential element for life,” McClennon said. “Free access to water is the standard method.”
Farris argued that the dogs do have continuous access to water and are in good health. “The state of NC has come to inspect us year after year and have never found any dogs in distress,” Farris said in court. “They didn’t seize any animals because they knew they were being cared for.” Farris said there are buckets of water for the dogs to drink and they often play and swim in the pond and trough water inspectors were referring to.
The two attorneys differed about what the word “continuous” means. Farris said the Fitz-Geralds give the dogs breaks from the kennels throughout the day.
McClennon said there is no way to guarantee that all dogs get water with the “water-break” system in place at FLOD. “There is a risk of harm it this continues,” McClennon said.
Farris told the court that FLOD spends about $15,000 a month on the operation. “They go into their own pockets to cover the costs of spay, neutered animals and operations on other animals when their owners can’t afford it,” Farris explained in court. “Anyone who knows them knows they are in the business of helping animals and people. We would never do anything or want to do anything to harm animals.”
Judge Walter H. Godwin Jr., is reviewing the case and will come back with a decision sometime at some point in the future.