LAURENS COUNTY, GA (CNN): The plan was this: The sheriff would drive to the property to execute the search warrant for particular objects generally associated with dogfighting, and for the dogs themselves.
Expressing concerns about the conditions at this private residence where dogs were suspected of being bred for dogfighting, Laurens County Sheriff Bill Harrell said, “If anything is going wrong, we want to get it stopped.”
Private investigators with Norred and Associates Inc. will work alongside Harrell and his deputies, leading tactical teams. The teams were made up of veteran investigators donating their time, effort and expertise, along with volunteers of the Dublin-Laurens County Humane Society, who would collect and care for the dogs.All of the team members had experience with animals, particularly pit bulls. Based on information from the tip line, they were starting the day prepared to find as many as 60 dogs chained up in the woods behind one man’s house in East Dublin, Georgia. These men and women waited, braced for battle — only the war they were waging was on animal cruelty.
“I want to thank everybody for coming. It’s for a good thing. It’s for the dogs.” Chuck Simmons, a private investigator and former police chief, was mapping out the search area on a dry erase board.
He was warning his crew about snakes, water from recent rains and nonsocialized dogs.
After loading up crates on several trucks, everyone headed out. With the address of the raid location in hand, our crew joined a convoy of half a dozen cars down several rural roads to our final location. We arrived at a one-story ranch house with several acres of grounds.
The sheriff beat us there. He and his deputies were already roping off this man’s front yard with yellow crime tape. Rollin Monta “Monty” Loyd, the property owner, appeared furious. As the teams moved into the woods behind his home, our crew was stuck in front and across the street.
We could not go on the property to get the shots we wanted, because that would be trespassing. We couldn’t see the dogs, but we could hear them. The private investigators, who were part of the raid, videotaped the operation.
Half an hour into the raid, reports began to come in. The good news: The dogs were still there; news of the raid hadn’t leaked. The bad news: There weren’t 60 dogs, as anticipated; there were more. The final count was 97.
Most of the dogs were pit bull terriers; many were puppies. They were found cowering in cages or chained. Some older dogs were scarred — possible signs of fighting, investigators said. Others were malnourished, simply skin and bone.
Their conditions were atrocious, according to Terry Wolf of the Dublin-Laurens County Humane Society.
“Their chains are too short to reach shelter, those who have shelter. The water that they have seems to be recent rainwater with algae in it, and I’ve seen no food bowls. Most of them are very timid,” Wolf said. “They seem to be human-friendly, but they’re attention starved, and they’re definitely not socialized. You can tell they’ve been living hidden in the woods, out of sight.”
Irene Sumner, director of the Dublin-Laurens County Humane Society, talked through tears, overcome before the count had been completed.
She told us about a puppy found dead and tossed aside into a used plastic bag.
“I wouldn’t do that to anybody. How can they — what do you need 80-plus dogs for? There’s no reason for it. It would be totally different if it was a kennel situation where they were housed, fed, vetted, all of the above. We don’t know all of the information on that yet, but you can visually see that that’s not the case here,” Sumner said.
The Sheriff’s Office says no evidence of dogfighting or training was found on the property, but veterinarians will examine the dogs for any physical signs of fighting. Test results will take several days.
As volunteers continued to count dogs and buzzards circled overhead, property owner Loyd waited out front with members of his family. He was angry.
CNN tried to speak to him, to give him a chance to tell his side of the story.
He didn’t want to talk. Instead, he shouted to go see his lawyer. When reached, Loyd’s attorney said: “My client has not participated in dogfighting and is not charged with dogfighting.”
Loyd was arrested and charged with animal cruelty. Neighbors and family members whom CNN spoke with came to his defense, saying Loyd loved the dogs and they were bred to be pets.
The founder and CEO of the private investigation firm heading up this raid isn’t buying it.
Since the story broke about NFL player Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring, Greg Norred has been donating his firm’s time and expertise and his own money to rescuing dogs.
“I’m an animal lover. I’ve always been an animal lover. And in the wake of the Michael Vick case, I always thought there might be something I could do about animal cruelty, and with the type of business that I’m in and the resources that I have, it seems like dogfighting is the best vehicle that I can use to do something about animal cruelty.”
In the past two years, Norred’s team has volunteered for at least 16 raids. They’ve helped put 20 people behind bars and saved 200 dogs. Make that almost 300 after this most recent raid.
Several hours into the raid, the first group of dogs was transported from the woods to an undisclosed location. A CNN crew was allowed to go but could shoot only from inside this building.
Investigators feared that if there were any identifiable marks outside the property, someone might recognize it and steal the dogs. Authorities couldn’t take that chance. But they did allow video of some of the dogs from inside the cages. They had taken many puppies, which looked helpless.
Volunteers feared one puppy wouldn’t make it through the night.
The next step for these dogs is to determine which ones are healthy enough to possibly be adopted. Some, sadly, won’t share that fate. They’ll have to be put down.