Dog concerns grow after black bear is seized

Posted at 5:44 PM, Mar 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-01 18:16:30-05

State agents revealed concerns over dog breeding practices at the same Plain Township property where a 1,000 pound black bear was seized on Monday.

In January, the Ohio Department of Agriculture revoked Susan Fitzgerald's High Volume Breeder License and noted several violations.

Erica Hawkins, a spokesperson for the agency, said the most serious violation was Mrs. Fitzgerald neutered her puppies without being licensed as a veterinarian.

Her husband, Jeff Fitzgerald, told that his wife has stopped neutering the puppies.

"The Department of Ohio Agriculture, their committee, said she's not allowed, so she's not been, she ain't doing it," he added.

The revocation means the couple cannot breed more than nine dogs or sell more than 60 puppies.

Dr. Melanie Butera, a veterinarian in Canal Fulton, filed a state complaint after a client brought a neutered puppy to her clinic. The puppy was purchased at Whiskers, Wings and Wild Things, a Canton pet shop owned by the Fitzgeralds.

Dr. Butera said she called Mrs. Fitzgerald who admitted to performing the surgeries without anesthesia.

"According to the state Department of Agriculture, for her to have that high volume breeder's license, it is not legal for her to perform that surgery," Dr, Butera said.

On Tuesday, Jeff Fitzgerald took issue with a claim by Dr. Butera-- and others posting on social media-- that he runs a puppy mill.

He said his dogs are well fed, healthy and stay in clean cages.

"I come home. I see my animals. I go into each cage individually and give them all attention. I love on them. They love me," he said.

On Monday morning, state inspectors tranquilized an 18-year-old black bear named Ben. It took nine people to carry the huge bear to an awaiting transport truck.

Investigators said the bear was taken because the Fitzgerald family failed to fix fencing and other safety problems on the bear's cage despite warnings during five previous inspections.

Mr. Fitzgerald is vowing to put up a fight for a bear, which he bought as a pet at an exotic pet show more than 17 years ago.

"Ben has a voice and it's gonna be me and I am going to do everything in my power no matter what it costs to get my bear back," he said.

Hawkins said the Department of Agriculture doesn't have the authority to take the dogs. It would be up to the Stark County Humane Society to take action if conditions were determined to be inhumane.

Stark County Dog Warden, Jon Barber, said that wasn't an issue during his last inspection at the property in 2014.

"Remarkably, for the number of dogs that were there, the place at that time when we were there, was remarkably clean," Barber said.

Hawkins said the investigation surrounding the dog breeding concerns is on-going and no decisions have been made as to whether the owners could face charges.