STOKES COUNTY, N.C. -- Facebook users across the country are outraged after a Stokes County man posted a picture of his puppy with a tattoo.
Ernesto Rodriguez is a disabled Army veteran and father-of-three who says he loves his two dogs as if they were his own children.
"Even my kids say those dogs eat better than we do," Rodriguez joked, pointing at his puppies Duke and Duchess.
Four-month-old Duchess is an American bully who now boasts a belly tattoo.
Rodriguez, a tattoo artist who owns a tattoo parlor in Pilot Mountain, said he tattooed the puppy himself. Duke has one, too.
"They both have it," he shrugged. "They both have their tattoos on them just in case something happens to them."
Rodriguez said he gave Duchess the intricate identification after taking her to the vet to get her ears clipped.
"Then I took her to [my] shop, tattooed her, and she slept the rest of the day," Rodriguez told FOX8.
"Really, that's kind of suspicious in my mind," said animal advocate Caleb Scott.
Scott, President of N.C. Voters for Animal Welfare, said the whole story just doesn't add up.
He's one of many people who emailed FOX8 and posted on our Facebook page asking for answers after seeing Duchess's tattoo.
"Usually when you pick up a dog or cat from the vet, they're already awake after a procedure. They don't usually hand you over a dog that's asleep," Scott pointed out.
He continued, "On [Rodriguez's] first Facebook post, he said he was 'bored and tattooing.' I think now he's backpedaling saying he's identifying it."
FOX8 asked Rodriguez several times and he insisted the dog was asleep before, during and after the tattooing procedure.
"It's just like judging someone for wearing a tattoo. You judge and you think that they're bad people. It's not. It's just art. I'm an artist. I want to put art on my dog. She was already asleep so I took advantage of that," Rodriguez added.
In a press release earlier this week, Stokes County officials said of the incident:
Stokes County Government is investigating a report that an unlicensed tattoo business is being operated in the county at 1396 Millsap Road, Pinnacle, NC which is not zoned for this type of business. A “Cease and Desist Order” on the tattoo business has been issued by the Health Department to the residents located at this address. Should the County’s investigation reveal any illegal activities occurring at this residence, appropriate actions will then be taken.
Rodriguez told FOX8 Friday, that he never practiced any tattooing at this home in Pinnacle.
So far, no charges have been filed in the case.
Scott believes animal cruelty statutes were violated.
"According to the welfare statutes, you can't have unjustifiable pain and suffering, and I think that falls under this situation," he explained.
After Rodriguez posted the Facebook picture of Duchess, people from all over the country responded, many calling him an animal abuser.
When FOX8 Reporter Carter Coyle asked Rodriguez if he regretted tattooing the dogs he responded, "No not at all. I'll do it again my next dogs."