LARGO, Fla. — Employees at Pinellas County's Animal Services are busy caring for 32 extra dogs after an arrest Saturday led investigators to a man suspected of operating a dog fighting ring.
The nearly three dozen pit bull terriers range from adults to puppies just a few weeks old.
"It's 32 additional cages you have to fill up, you have to feed them, medicate them, care for them for weeks or months depending on how long they stay with us," Animal Services Director Doug Brightwell said.
On Saturday, deputies responded to complaint calls from neighbors about barking dogs. When they got to the home at in the 12000 block of 119th Street North in unincorporated Largo, they found the dogs. Most were penned up in handmade wooden cages in the backyard.
Investigators believe the owner was breeding the dogs and using them as part of a dog fighting ring, based on evidence they found inside the home.
Deputies also found two young children who they say weren’t properly being cared for, plus guns, ammunition and cocaine. They also found large quantities of white powder that they are running further tests on.
They took 38-year-old Terell Coley into custody on several felony charges. People who live nearby told ABC Action News signs posted around the home made them wary. The signs read, "Beware of Dog," "Warning: Never mind the dog, beware the owner" (showing a pointed gun), "Warning: There is nothing here worth dying for" (showing another pointed gun).
Neighbors said they are staying quiet due to the nature of the charges but said they heard dogs barking day and night for hours on end. They first tried to work with their neighbor, but when he didn't come to the door, they called law enforcement.
Pinellas County Animal Services said some of the dogs are malnourished and at least four are injured, but the rest are in better condition than expected.
"Everybody when you hear the circumstances of this case, there is a stereotype in mind of the type of dog and what they’re going to look like," Brightwell said. "These dogs don’t fit that normal stereotype. They’re nice-looking, not real big, fairly healthy."
32 dogs! That’s how many pit bull terriers @SheriffPinellas and @AdoptPCAS investigators took into their shelter this weekend from a suspected dog fighting ring/neglect arrest. @abcactionnews we’re showing you what’s next for the pups. #TampaBay #Pinellas https://t.co/r9GIDGAFb7 pic.twitter.com/XPxNGNLiXk— Sarah J. Hollenbeck (@SarahHollenbeck) May 16, 2022
Animal Services will have to apply for custody of the dogs before they’re able to adopt them out. It’s a process that could take months.
For now, they’re applauding neighbors for intervening. It's a move that they say very well may have saved the dogs' lives.
“It’s very sad but that’s one of our purposes here," Brightwell said. "We feel like we are doing something right for the community when these cases come up and we can step in and bring the animals in here and improve their care."
Brightwell said they hope the case will encourage more people to come forward when they suspect animal abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
“If you do see something it doesn’t hurt to make a phone call and tell us what’s going on," he said. "We may go by four times and see nothing but on the 5th time it will be the right time and we can press charged. Don’t get frustrated because the process is slow. This case is evidence that the process works."
If Pinellas County Animal Services is able to adopt out the dogs, they will have to ensure that they are safe to be placed in families and in situations with other animals.