Around Town

A man made a promise to the woman he loved. Now he lives alone, rescuing the dogs she couldn’t save

Charlie Fisher with some of his Great Pyrenees and cats at the shelter he runs. Photo by Diedra Laird, Charlotte Observer
Charlie Fisher with some of his Great Pyrenees and cats at the shelter he runs. Photo by Diedra Laird, Charlotte Observer

When Charlie Fisher wakes up, he’s alone. They’re never there when he wakes up — the three hulking Great Pyrenees that curl up next to him in bed at night, in the dark, cramped room at the rear of his Travel Supreme.

Dogs of this breed crave closeness. They moan with affection during a good ear scratch. But their loner tendencies kick in.

By morning, the three dogs have lumbered through the tiny dark bathroom and back into the main cabin.

They sleep on the floor — the faux tiles scuffed with dirt and clumped with tufts of brown and white fur. In this room, the countertop and shelves are cluttered with coffee mugs and bottles of water, cans of dog food and a toaster oven.

“It’s just adequate, you know.”

When Fisher speaks, he’s not bitter. He’s upbeat, even. He chooses to live alone. He’s attached to the dogs, and their place together.

It’s scuzzy but snug — and the nearness of the dogs makes Fisher feel safe.

When Fisher wakes up, the three old dogs, Buddy, Sam and Porter (that’s the first dog he ever rescued, 11 years ago) are ready to go out. He walks through the tiny, dark bathroom and into the main cabin.

Charlie Fisher’s camper at the shelter he runs. Photo by Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer.

Fisher, 63, swings open the door and the dogs lope outside. Soon, he’ll let out the rest of the dogs he’s recently rescued and keeps on the two acres of land. He’ll let out the dogs in the old, white, two-bedroom house holding tattered mattresses and couches. He’ll let out the dogs in the white garage, filled with more couches and full bowls of dog food.

At any given time, he says, there are an average of nine dogs on the property, which looks out onto rolling fields, uninterrupted sky.

“They’re known to roam,” Fisher said. “That’s why about half of them are here, because they run away from entrapment. They just don’t like it.”

You could say the same about Fisher.

He grew up in the Newton-Conover area, became a roadie in his twenties, roaming all over the world as he followed bands and worked on lighting and rigging for sets.

In 1993, he bonded with the Pyrenees in Europe. It was a breed of dog he’d never seen before. A breed of dog known for loyalty and protection, for guarding flocks and guarding property.

He shows that same fierce loyalty to the dogs on his two acres of land in Claremont, NC, where he now runs the Great Pyrenees Rescue of Western North Carolina.

He’s spent nearly three years protecting them from being adopted by the wrong people. Usually the dogs have already been given up on, once.

“They’ve got all their buddies and they play all the time,” Fisher said. “… They’ve got the life compared to what they had before. You’ve got to come up with something better.”

Charlie Fisher with some of his Great Pyrenees at the shelter he runs. Photo by Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer Diedra Laird

He devotes his life to making theirs better

“I have so many stories like that where you just find the right dog for the right person. It completes some people,” said Fisher, who usually only takes time for himself from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The rest of his time is spent caring for the dogs, and working to bring more who need him onto his property.

On a mid-January morning, Fisher is bundled up in a cap and a sweatshirt (with a puffy Pyrenees face on it), leaning back in an overstuffed chair inside the musty white house. He’s ruffling the white-gray fur of one of the dogs — the fluff matches Fisher’s hair — and telling the story of a woman who spent nearly three decades in jail. She didn’t feel safe reintegrating into society until she settled in with a Pyrenees from Fisher’s rescue.

“They’re just big old teddy bears,” said Fisher, who started saving Pyrenees in Atlanta, when he left his roadie life behind 11 years ago.

He saw that too many were being bred as goat dogs, too many were being sold as a commodity in the north Georgia mountains and too many were being used for pitbull baiting in dog fights.

He started his own rescue, operating independently from his place in Alpharetta on a half-acre lot.

That’s when he was rescued, in a way. An unexpected message landed in his inbox, written by a woman named Deborah Walker Robinson. The red-haired pharmacist in Newton, NC, was hoping to adopt a dog.

He knew that name. Except, he remembered her as the little red-haired girl at Newton-Conover Junior High. They both played drums — she played bass, he played snare — in the eighth grade band. She was a cheerleader.

“She would knock the drum off the stand, she’d beat it so hard,” Fisher said, smiling.

The band director made him lean against the drum to keep it in place.

“If you look at this cute little picture of our 8th grade band, we’re the only two that are touching,” he said. “Because I just loved this little girl to death. I mean, she was just, you know, the little red-haired girl. You know? I don’t know if you know the Charlie Brown story, but she was the little red-haired girl.”

He remembers the one time he took her ice skating with his church group.

“So, I knew that I would get to hold her hand,” he said.

He did.

The spark was short-lived. The little red-haired girl started dating someone else. Fisher moved to Charlotte with his family and graduated from East Mecklenburg High School.

Her life unfolded, with marriage and three children.

Fisher never got married, he never had kids. He became a roadie, before he became a rescuer.

Getting rescued

Then Robinson rescued him, with that one message. She was recently separated from her husband and looking for a guard dog. Fisher found her a Pyrenees named Jackson in Lincoln County. “He was a mean little guy,” Fisher said.

But Robinson wanted that comfort of fierce, male protection. She wanted to feel safe. And Jackson would flop into bed with her. “She didn’t worry about anything when he was there,” Fisher said.

It wasn’t long before Fisher became her source of protection, too. He moved back to Conover to stay with his parents and started dating Robinson.

“She kind of took me in,” Fisher said. “She took me and my rescue in and let us use her house, let us have whatever funds we needed, and just helped. Because she just loved doing it.”

The church-going, choir-singing, Sunday-school-teaching, red-haired woman also tamed him, in a way.

She tamed that rugged man who roamed through Europe, jumping from job to job, most content without boundaries. She challenged him to get serious.

“She always said she rescued me from a life of drinking and craziness,” Fisher said. “Maybe it was a mutual rescue, because I was there to help her through this.”

“This” was cancer.

In 2012, one eye appointment turned into news of ocular melanoma, a cancer in or around the eye. Within a week, Robinson had surgery.

Despite periods of hope, the cancer spread to her liver.

And before her stretched a tough 18 months.

Fisher lived with her on and off, caring for her and caring for the dogs he continued to rescue. Robinson was surrounded by the love of her family — her sisters, her sons.

Her son Scott will always remember her as selfless. As always putting others before herself, and planning to rescue dogs if she ever retired.

“Everybody wanted to support her because everybody loved Deborah,” said Fisher.

He kept watch over her. He researched her cancer, her possible treatments. He took her to doctor appointments, he took care of the house. He took care of the dogs.

He just couldn’t save her.

She died before her 60th birthday. She would never retire and she would never devote her days to rescuing dogs.

So Fisher did.

“I told her I would do it for her,” Fisher said.

Creating the space

His dad helped him find two acres of land in Claremont, to start the rescue he now runs. He parked his camper near the tree line. He erected the wooden fencing and the wire fencing of varying heights. He placed couches in the little house, he stacked kennels in the garage.

He’s there almost every minute. He opens the tall gate to let broken dogs in.

He’s let in Bocephus, who arrived with his mother, father and two sisters, who were working dogs. Their breeder got sick and sold her cattle. Fisher had to take 2-year-old Bo to get part of his tail amputated — it had been ripped by barbed wire. The next month, surrounded by a herd of other Pyrenees, the 140-pound giant joyfully wagged his white nub while he played.

He’s let in 3-year-old Kane, who arrived from an animal control service after he bit someone and his owner surrendered him. He’s a high-spirited, possessive, food aggressive dog.

“He has a lot of issues, but he’s mostly a sweetheart,” Fisher said. “And he’ll lay on the couch with you, put his head in your lap.”

Other dogs who have ended up here over the years have simply strayed and been found by people in Fisher’s network.

“Most of them have issues,” said Fisher.

But he takes them in, just like he did with the nearly 150 dogs who roamed this property before them.

Charlie Fisher with some of his Great Pyrenees at the shelter he runs. Charlie Fisher, a man who lives alone on 2 acres in Claremont, NC, runs a rescue for Great Pyrenees dogs. It's a love story; he decided to make this his life's work after losing his girlfriend Deborah, the woman he loved, who also wanted to rescue these dogs.The rescue is a 2-acre property that contains a camper (where Charlie sleeps, + 3 dogs), a small house (where 3-4 dogs sleep, and a garage (where more dogs sleep in kennels). There are generally about 12 dogs on the property. Charlie lives here, essentially in isolation with a bunch of big dogs. Volunteers come to train the dogs a few days a week with him. Diedra Laird

This time around, he’s confident he can save them. And he cries when he does — when the dogs leave for their new homes.

“Now, they need to know that somebody still cares,” he said. “It’s what makes us humans. That we do care.”

When the dogs get saved, their names are painted on a stone for the memorial garden outside the fence, at the front of the property. The names of dogs who have died are painted there, too.

The stones get added to the garden, to the cluster surrounding one large, tan stone. That’s Robinson’s stone.

“That’s where she is, with all her dogs,” Fisher said. “They’re all around her.”

Looking to rescue a Great Pyrenees? Visit