By Constance Cooper, Savannah Morning News
Eleven pit bulls may be headed for a better life, after a Chatham County sheriff's deputy stumbled onto an alleged dogfighting operation in Garden City.
Deputy Rich Hall had traveled to the end of Big Hill Road last week to serve civil papers to a resident when he heard dogs howling behind the tree line. Hall followed the barking and found nearly a dozen pit bulls tethered to trees with thick tow chains. Plastic barrels and particle board sheds provided the dogs' only shelter.
Hall called Garden City Police to the scene, where officers found a cement pit bound by a tall chain-link fence, discarded syringes and bottles of antibiotics, and a heavy metal contraption with a cage on one end and a chain on the other that they say was used to train the pit bulls to fight.
"You couldn't help but feel sorry for these dogs," said Armando Villegas, a Garden City detective, who investigated the scene.
As of Tuesday, no one had been arrested in connection with the case, but Garden City Police say they have leads and are confident an arrest will be made "within the next couple weeks."
Villegas said the pit bulls seemed "extremely, extremely aggressive" when they were discovered Dec. 8. But Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Animal Control Cpl. George Smith said the dogs' temperament changed when they got out of the cold and were given food and water. The 10 adult pit bulls and one pit bull puppy are being held at the Chatham County Animal Shelter.
Smith said the alleged dogfighting operation is the biggest one Animal Control has handled in his five years there.
So far, the dogs have seemed friendly toward people, Smith said, and, in six days at the shelter, have shown no aggression toward the workers.
But "other animals may be a different story," he said.
The dogs were in "fair health" when they were brought to the shelter, according to Smith, although some were underweight.
"Nothing indicated that they needed to go to a vet," he said. "They had some scars, but they were old scars, healing scars."
"Wasn't none of them skin and bones," he said.
Although no one had come forward to claim the dogs as of Tuesday, Smith said a judge has to sign off before they can be put up for adoption.
If the dogs find new homes, their lives will be starkly different than what police say they faced in the lot off Big Hill Road.
Detective Javier Portales, lead investigator in the case, said in a typical dogfight, two dogs are put in a pit to fight until one of them retreats. But the pit off Big Hill Road is just a few feet wide, and Portales said that with no room to retreat, dogs would have been forced to fight until one of them died or was critically injured.
There are a number of homes near the site where the dogs were found, but Portales and Villegas say neighbors claim to know nothing about the operation.
Several well-worn paths to and from the site indicate otherwise, they say.
The property owner also is claiming to know nothing, according to Garden City Cpl. Kurtis Purtee, who is supervising the investigation.
"That's hard when you can hear the dogs barking from the road," Purtee said.
The age of the paths and the thick track worn around the machinery police say was used to train the dogs indicate that the site has been in use for several months, if not a year or more, according to police.
Individuals with information on the case can call Purtee at 912-963-2701. To inquire about adopting the dogs, call the Chatham County Animal Shelter at 912-351-6750.