Max Fitz-Gerald is due in court in Nash County today for an arraignment after he was arrested for keeping two dogs at his shelter that he believes were in unsafe conditions and about to die. Fitz-Gerald is the co-founder of For The Love of Dogs, a no-kill, non-profit animal shelter in Wilson County.
On Monday, Fitz-Gerald was arrested and charged with larceny of a dog after refusing to return Regis to his owners, an elderly couple who lives in Elm City. Fitz-Gerald said that both Regis and Princess, Regis’ sister, were being neglected by the owners after the dogs tested positive for heartworms and had what appeared to be years-worth of matted fur. The owners of the dogs, Clark and Suezanne Page, said Fitz-Gerald was only supposed to bathe and groom the dogs and then return them. They wrote to Fitz-Gerald asking for one of the two dogs to be returned.
Fitz-Gerald said the dogs needed more than a bath. “The littler of the two dogs became so sick he was laying in the grass with fire ants all in his coat. It was so matted, you couldn’t run anything through it, and there was metal in the coat also,” Fitz-Gerald said. “The large dog took three people two and a half hours to shave the dog.”
According to Fitz-Gerald, both dogs were in such bad health they had to be taken to get emergency care. “At first Princess could not stand up,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We finally got her healthy enough to walk when Regis couldn’t stand. We rushed him to Cary for emergency care. He was on IV’s and was in an animal hospital for days.” In fact, Fitz-Gerald had just picked Regis up from the animal hospital when he was arrested.
Page said in a letter he wrote to Fitz-Gerald last week that he knows the dogs are heartworm positive. But Page claims he never signed a permanent agreement to give up Regis and is demanding that the male of the two-year-old Great Pyrenees be returned. “We never signed anything nor ever agreed to ‘give up’ the dog, (we)thought you were doing us a favor,” Page wrote.
FitzGerald said he is not out to harm the reputation of the owners and only wants to protect the dogs. He said the Pages should have taken better medical care of the dogs. “The people are middle class, they are older, but they can afford to get both dogs medical attention. They did not provide heartworm prevention for them. They are both heartworm positive. Rabies shot was out of date for years,” Fitz-Gerald said. “ People don’t realize how harmful heartworms are to dogs. In the last stage (of heartworms), they are pooping blood or puking blood because they have torn up their lungs trying to get air in them.”
Fitz-Gerald views his actions as a necessary act of civil disobedience.
“I’m going to fight for the dogs because I want to set an example,” said Fitz- Gerald. “If you can afford it, take care of them or don’t have them.”
For the Love of Dogs provides services like neutering, vaccinations, adoption events and more for pet owners.
Fitz-Gerald said, “There are many people that love their dog, but love is not enough. You have to be able to care for the dog and provide the dog with the things that keep it healthy.”
Fitz-Gerald is no stranger to dog-related run-ins with the law. Recently, he was in court over charges from the NC Dept of Agriculture, stating the dogs at the shelter were not given “continuous water.” The fine attached was $10,800. Will Farris, Fitz-Gerald’s attorney, argued that the dogs had proper access to water and were in excellent health. They are awaiting a decision from a judge on if the Fitz-Geralds have to provide continuous water and if they will be accessed the fine the Dept. of Ag. as given them.