The discovery of dozens of greyhound racing dogs tormented and left to starve to death after this fall's racing season had ended has angered and appalled law enforcement and humane officials.
Thirty-two grossly emaciated dogs have been found dead at a kennel owned by Ebro dog trainer Ronald John Williams. Another five were found alive, three of them severely malnourished, and are being nursed back to health.
Food for the dogs was found rotting in a broken freezer and several of the animals were found with duct tape tightly wound around their jaws and necks, said Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock.
"We don't know if it's a combination of trying to speed up the process or to keep them from barking," he said.
The sheriff was shocked at what his officers discovered.
"Thirty-two years I've been in law enforcement here locally and with the prosecutor's office also … I've never seen animal cruelty cases like this one," Haddock said.
"We hope he rots in prison," said Mark Hess, the assistant manager at the Ebro Greyhound Park in Florida, where the dogs raced this year.
Williams was charged with 37 counts of felony animal cruelty and is suspected in an animal cruelty investigation in a neighboring county in which the remains of eight more dogs, believed to be greyhounds, were found dumped under a bridge a half-mile from his Ponce de Leon, Fla., home.
Haddock's office is working closely with officials in Walton County to try and tie Williams to the eight dogs found left under a bridge there. Haddock said they're hoping the racing tattoos on the dogs' ears and collars with their names on it will lead to an answer.
Greyhound racing has long pitted adoption volunteers against tracks they accuse of mistreating and exploiting the docile animals.
The California-based Greyhound Protection League accuses the greyhound racing industry on its Web site of being "responsible for incalculable animal suffering and the routine killing of thousands of young, healthy greyhounds each year."
But the president of Greyhound Pets of America, a national greyhound adoption non-profit, takes a more pragmatic approach.
"The majority are well taken care of and treated right," Rory Goree said. "My opinion is if they've been abused a lot, it's going to show up in their temperment and I have not seen it show up in their temperment."
But Goree admitted that Florida is notorious for having the worst tracks in the country and he called Williams "a bum."
"If this guy would have said, 'You take the dogs,' we would have figured out a way to take care of them," Goree said. "There's just no excuse for not even trying."
Williams is being held in the Washington County jail on $74,000 bond. He is next due in court Dec. 6, where he will be assigned a public defender if he does not hire a lawyer before then.
Hess said he understands the intense scrutiny greyhound racing has come under in recent years. Several states have gone so far as to ban dog racing. But Hess said that his track, family owned for decades, takes pride in the responsibility of keeping his dogs safe.
"I have not been able to sleep since this happened," he said. "All I keep thinking is there something in our policies that could have stopped this sooner."