Deputies investigate dog-fighting ring, dog theft

Dog seized after bust stolen from Animal Control the next day, deputies say

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – Putnam County prosecutors are trying to determine if they’ve got enough evidence to file any charges after a dog-fighting ring was broken up by deputies over the weekend.

Investigators discovered the ring late Saturday night on Azaela Lane in Hawthorne and seized 19 dogs.
Putnam County Animal Control had to put down one of the dogs involved in the fight. And another one was stolen from its cage at the facility the day after the bust.

Putnam County Sheriff's Office deputies responding about midnight Saturday to a call of barking dogs and people yelling found a dog-fighting event in the woods off Azalea Lane in west Putnam County.

As Deputy Mark Juen and Sgt. Shannon Depew approached the lighted area in the woods, about 100 people ran into the woods, leaving behind 39 vehicles, some registered from as far away as Jonesboro, Georgia, and Bradenton, Florida.

“The cars come from as far away as Jonesboro, Georgia, which is up by Atlanta, and down by Barstow and down in that area, so I mean this with obviously an advertised thing,” Capt. Dick Schauland said.

The deputies found two dogs fighting inside an arena made out of a wooden box. Both dogs had wounds evidently as a result of the ongoing fight, deputies said.

More deputies arrived, and they found 19 dogs in the immediate area, a digital hanging scale, two cellphones, sponges and a 12-gauge shotgun. The items were collected as evidence.

The dogs were collected by Putnam County Animal Control.

Enforcement Division manager Lisa Suarez helped out, getting the dogs food and water and putting them into the kennels.

“This is where we held them the very first night when they came in and then we locked up this front door and we left for the night,” Suarez said.

Inside the kennel, surrounded by two gates, Animal Control employees thought the animals were secure. But when they got back hours later, they found one of the cages slashed and one of the two dogs the deputies had found involved in the fight was missing.

Deputies said they believe the thieves backed a truck up to the fence. Tire marks could be seen on the ground, along with an indentation in the fence.

“I guess they just opened it up that night and just lifted that up, because right now there are four dogs in here, and they found the one they were after and just used bolt cutters,” Suarez said.

There is no surveillance video, something Animal Control employees said they want to add to prevent future thefts.

In the meantime, Putnam County investigators are working two cases in an effort to keep dog fighting out of their area.

“This is a pretty outstanding thing, and it's something we certainly don't want to have in Putnam County,” Schauland said. “They do want to make it an airtight case to try to take it to court.”

Deputies said the night the ring was broken up about 20 people were contacted in the surrounding area, and all of them denied being a part of fighting dogs, claiming they were a part of the audience.

All of the vehicles left at the scene were identified for the follow-up investigation, deputies said.

Anyone with information about the dog-fighting event or the theft is asked to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 386-329-0800.