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Wilson County man charged with animal cruelty

Dog breeder Lester Farmer, 54, of 6612 Bridgersville Road, was charged one count for each dog seized from his home. The seven Shih-Tzu dogs were transported to For the Love of Dogs, a non-profit shelter and clinic, in Wilson.

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ELM CITY, N.C. — An Elm City dog breeder was charged with seven felony counts of animal cruelty on Tuesday, according to the Wilson County Sheriff's Office.

Lester Farmer, 54, of 6612 Bridgersville Road, was charged with one count for each dog seized from his home. The seven Shih-Tzu dogs were bald, infected and diseased. Officials said they could barely recognize the breed of each dog due to its condition.

Wilson County Animal Enforcement officers seized the dogs and transported them to For the Love of Dogs, a non-profit shelter and clinic, at 5146 Quaker Road in Wilson.

“This is one of the worst groups I've ever had the opportunity to help,” said Max Fitzgerald, who operates the shelter.

The shelter is trying to nurse the dogs back to health. All have severe mange, likely caused by months of neglect in a poor environment, according to veterinarians.

“These dogs were in some of the worst shape we've seen,” Fitzgerald said.

National Shih-Tzu groups are working with Fitzgerald’s shelter to take and eventually find adoptive homes for the dogs.

Farmer is being held under a $10,500 bond. He was scheduled for a court appearance Friday.

Maj. Mickey Wilson, with the Wilson County Sheriff's Office Animal Enforcement Unit, said Farmer used to breed the dogs.

“The main thing is, he wasn't getting them medical treatment.... When I asked him why, he said he's trying to treat them some, but he just couldn't afford it,” Wilson said.

Fitzgerald and others said that until recently, similar cases of animal abuse were often brushed aside.

The Sheriff's Office took over animal control in 2007 after numerous complaints, including the handling of a case involving under-nourished hound dogs.

In about a year and a half, officers have investigated close to 30 animal cruelty cases.

“We take these cases very seriously. We've made a lot of felony arrests,” Wilson said.

Also, Fitzgerald’s shelter has significantly increased adoptions.

“It's a totally new day, and it’s fabulous,” Fitzgerald said.

Workers caring for the seized Shih-Tzus believe more aggressive enforcement of animal cruelty saved their lives. The dogs will take months to fully recover.

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Mike Charbonneau, Reporter
Kathy Hanrahan, Web Editor

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