By Hanna Francis, WSAZ
The Humane Society of the United States says it has recovered more than a dozen dogs from a Calhoun County home.
Calhoun County officials called in the Humane Society after 26 dogs were discovered chained, starving and freezing behind a house. Seven dogs had died in the cold.
The dead body of the homeowner had been left undiscovered for three weeks.
The Humane Society removed 19 dogs that are being transported to a boarding facility.
Calhoun County EMS confirm 87-year-old Edward Barrera was the man found dead in his home, weeks later.
EMS also confirms the 26 pit bulls found chained and freezing are now being fed and watered and are recovering. PETA was contacted, and say they are coming to get the animals.
According to EMS, Barrera will not undergo an autopsy. No cause of death has been reported.
Update December 13, 2010 10:01pm - The following article is by Ashley B. Craig, Charleston Daily Mail:
Man, 87, found dead at home with 32 dogs
Authorities suspect an elderly man found dead in his home as dozens of starving dogs suffered in the cold outside might have been involved in dog fighting.
Found on his property were seven dead dogs and 25 emaciated but still living ones.
Calhoun County sheriff's deputies and a trooper from the State Police detachment in Grantsville found Edward Barrera, 87, dead in his Arnoldsburg home last Tuesday, said Chief Deputy Carl Ballangee. The agencies are working together on the incident.
State Police Sgt. O.S. Starsick said neighbors told authorities they hadn't seen Barrera outside around his home in over a week. Investigators found no signs of forced entry at his home and they don't suspect foul play in his death.
Neighbors typically stayed away from the home because they were afraid of his dogs, Starsick said.
Ballangee said 32 dogs were found chained on the hillside behind Barrera's home, but just 25 of the animals were alive.
Among them were 17 pit bulls, four beagles and two mountain cur dogs. Seven more pit bulls, still chained to their ramshackle doghouses, were found dead from starvation and exposure to the elements.
Ballangee said the surviving dogs had gone two weeks without food or water and were in bad shape.
On Monday, authorities expressed concern that Barrera could have been training the dogs to fight in illegal fighting rings.
"We don't know anything concrete about any of that stuff," Ballangee said. "Right now we just suspect."
Starsick said investigating would be difficult because the only suspect, Barrera, is dead.
"It's pure speculation at this point," Starsick said. "He could have just been raising them, he could have been breeding them, or he could have been training them to fight. We just don't know."
Janette Reever, deputy manager of the animal fighting law enforcement unit of the Humane Society of the United States, said local officials contacted the group Friday to help relocate the dogs. Law enforcement and other county workers had been caring for the dogs in the meantime.
She said Barrera - who, according to the Jackson Herald, had been arrested in June in Jackson County for possession of marijuana - was previously involved in dog fighting but would not provide further detail. She called him a "well-known figure" in the dog-fighting scene.
Reever, who was at Barrera's home over the weekend, said some dogs may have been training for fights but those found alive were emaciated and weak.
"It's hard to say if these dogs were being used in fighting," she said. "You can't just look at a dog and say, 'Yes, this dog was being trained for fighting.' There's no way to really tell."
Reever said the recent snowfall probably aided the dogs in staying alive as the snow provided a source of water. A veterinarian checked the animals, who have been removed from the Arnoldsburg home.
The beagles and mountain cur dogs were taken to local animal shelters while the pit bulls have been relocated to an undisclosed facility to undergo rehabilitation before being released to facilities for adoption. She said representatives from WV Pit Bull Haven, located in Hardy County, came to the Calhoun County home to offer assistance.
Reever called the community response to the incident phenomenal. Officers checked on the animals around the clock, feeding them, laying straw in their doghouses and playing with them.
"These dogs were fortunate to have the support of the county after such a tragic ordeal," she said.