The Frozen Dog Hell of Ashe County

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On February 3rd Lisa Fitzpatrick, a local dog activist, received an email and video from an Ashe County (North Carolina) resident who lives near a property owned by Daniel Cruz in Lansing. The video showed disturbing images of several dogs living on the property, exposed to the elements at all times along with several dozen roosters.

The next day Fitzpatrick went out to the property to make her own video. After obtaining permission from the next-door neighbor, Fitzpatrick shot her video without ever entering Cruz’s property. The video (which is available on Facebook) clearly shows 3 beagles living in a chain-link pen that is 10’ long by 3’ wide. The floor of the pen is completely covered by several inches of gooey mud with a few empty buckets strewn about and an empty water bowl. The only shelter is a doorless uninsulated plastic crate used for shipping animals. All three beagles are on top of the crate because it is the only part of the pen free from mud and water. None of the dogs are wearing collars with rabies tags. According to North Carolina law all dogs must be vaccinated and display their tags at all times.

The video then pans across the property to show a multitude of roosters in individual cages. In the midst of the birds is a pit bull on a short chain. The ground surrounding him is devoid of any vegetation and he also has only a plastic crate for shelter. No food or water can be seen.

Fitzpatrick moved to another neighbor’s property and videoed the remainder of Cruz’s land. There are rooster cages as far as the eye can see, and in the middle of it a small pug. Like the pit bull, the pug has free reign of a small muddy area whose radius is limited by a short chain and the princely accommodations of a plastic box. All of these dogs are out in the elements 24/7.

Surely Mr. Cruz cares for these animals, right? Not according to the neighbors. Cruz doesn’t even live there. According to the county tax records, the property doesn’t even have a house. In fact, since Cruz bought the place in 2000 (from Richard Yearick, but more about that later), the property has lost 46% of its value because it’s such a shit-hole. The neighbors have been complaining about Cruz, his property, and his treatment of the animals ever since he bought the place.

At first the county paid attention. In 2000 Cruz was arrested and convicted of cockfighting. Now you know why he has all those roosters. He was given a slap on the wrist of 2 years probation, so he went right back to what he was doing. In 2002 he was arrested again for animal cruelty, but the charges were mysteriously dismissed. The following year he was cited for being a public nuisance but again the charge was dismissed. Then the county stopped bothering to even go through the motions. According to neighbors, they have been calling Ashe County Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Department for years. When they aren’t ignored someone from the county comes out, maybe has a talk with Cruz and then that’s it. Nothing happens. And to be accurate, only some of the neighbors call the county – the rest are afraid of Cruz. Apparently he has let some of them know what could happen to them if they don’t leave him alone.

But that was before Ms Fitzpatrick decided to gather her video evidence. After making the first video she called animal control to have them seize the dogs. She made enough of a stink that AC Director Joe Testerman contacted Cruz (the two are rumored to be good friends) and told him to take care of his dogs. Cruz spread some straw and cedar shavings over the mud in the beagle’s pen. That’s it, just straw and shavings. That’s all that was done. Testerman then informed Fitzpatrick that Cruz was in compliance with the law (he’s not) and there is nothing more AC can do. Then the shit hit the fan.

Unbeknownst to Cruz and Testerman, Cruz’s dogs were becoming internet stars. Fitzpatrick let everyone in cyberspace know that animal control not only refused to seize the dogs, they also didn’t make Cruz fix the horrid conditions they live in. A flood of angry emails and phone calls rained down on Testerman and Sheriff James Williams. Someone found out where Cruz works and his boss began getting phone calls demanding that Cruz be fired. The “nutcases” – Sheriff’s term for people upset by dog abuse – were calling from all over the country, so of course you’re thinking that the county did something to set things right.

Are you kidding? That’s not how the good-old-boy network operates.

On February 5, Sheriff Williams had Ms Fitzpatrick arrested for trespassing. That should shut the bitch up!

As soon as word of the arrest got out the internet legions kicked into a higher gear. Testerman’s boss, County Manager Sam Yearick became the recipient of an email avalanche, but like animal control and the Sheriff he has been more interested in damage control than with stopping the abuse. According to Yearick, “…Joe did exactly what he was supposed to do. He investigated the situation and if there had been obvious cruelty you charge the person. If there’s not, you try to work with the owner to remedy the situation.” Obviously Yearick is not going to do anything to fix the situation. Incidentally, according to Ashe County records, Daniel Cruz bought the property he has turned into an animal concentration camp from Mr. Yearick’s father. Small world.

According to Ashe County’s laws – “It shall be unlawful for any person to molest, torture, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, cruelly beat, needlessly mutilate or kill, wound, injure, poison, abandon, or subject to conditions detrimental to its health or general welfare of any animal, or to cause or procure such action. The words “torture” and “torment” shall be held to include every act, omission or neglect whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering, or death is caused or permitted.”

Some of you may think – sure, living in a small pen or on the end of a chain wallowing in the mud sucks, but it’s not going to kill the dogs. Does this really constitute torture? Yes, it does, and here’s why. Ashe County is not in the hot part of North Carolina. Ashe lies in the midst of the highest mountain chain east of the Mississippi. The area has a climate more like Maine’s than North Carolina’s. This past week the three beagles, one pit bull and one pug had to endure nearly a foot of snow and temperatures that fell into the single digits. Winds blew up to 50 miles per hour pushing the windchill way below zero. As I write this, freezing rain is falling on the dogs … if they are still alive.

Joe Testerman has lived in Ashe all his life. He’s well aware of how brutal the winters are. He knows those dogs are suffering and might not survive. The Sheriff and the County Manager also know it. They have the full power of the law behind them to arrest Cruz on animal cruelty charges and seize the dogs (and the roosters he’s raising for cockfighting).

So why won’t they enforce the law? At this point it’s not even a question of laziness. Seizing the animals and turning them over to a rescue group would be easier than putting up with all the negative attention the Ashe County Government is starting to receive. There has to be a reason the Sheriff and animal control not only turn their backs on criminal activity but actually go out of their way to abet it.

Will Ashe County become another of the many examples of government and police corruption? There’s got to be more to this story than just a bunch of cruel rednecks.

(Note: For the sake of brevity I did not include the awful story of how Joe Testerman has turned the county animal shelter into one of the deadliest in the country. But you can read more here.)


 

As the year progresses I will keep a running tally of the number of unarmed citizens and dogs killed by police. I will also keep tabs on the number of cops killed in the line of duty.

Here’s the count for the first 7 weeks of the year along with links to the most recent killings:

Unarmed Americans killed by police: 8

Police: Cop Killed Wife, Son, Torched Home Then Shot Himself

Dogs killed by police: 5

Cops Fatally Shoot Charging Pit Bull in Bronx Apartment While Responding to Domestic Disturbance

Police killed in the line of duty: 8 (It’s been a bad week for cops)

Maryland Cops Killed in Shocking Daytime Shootings

Danville Policeman Killed, Suspected Gunman ‘Was Looking to Kill an Officer’

Oregon Officer Shot Dead While Serving Warrant

Community Mourns Loss of Fallen Riverdale Police Major

Fargo Police Say Officer Shot During Standoff Dies

Wayne Middlesteadt is the author of Five Ways to Beat the Market and The Golden Age of Distance Running.

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Wayne Middlesteadt is a 1986 graduate of Georgia Tech and has an MBA from Georgia State University. Currently working as a financial writer and track and field historian, his latest book is Five Ways To Beat The Market.