A Tyler, Texas, man is under arrest, accused of being part of a dog fighting ring that allegedly stole family pets out of yards, then trained them to be killers or used them as bait.
A man called Tyler police earlier this week and told them his dog had been stolen and he had reason to believe the dog was at a home in his neighborhood. Police went to the home and discovered several pit bulls, mistreated and abused.
In a nearby vacant lot, police discovered the remains of six dogs believed to have been killed or used as bait in the fights. One of the fatally mauled dogs had its mouth taped shut, likely so it could not defend itself, Tyler Animal Control field supervisor Gary Chambers said.
The man who lives at the home, Demarcus Keshawn Johnson, 18, was arrested Wednesday, accused of being a member of a dog fighting ring that authorities say is responsible for one of the worst cases of animal cruelty the city has ever seen. Johnson was charged with misdemeanor theft and dog fighting.
Johnson was released on bond. ABC News affiliate KLTV in Tyler tried to contact him, but was unable to reach him.
Behind Johnson's home, there are empty kennels that police said allegedly once held stolen dogs and, just a few feet away, police said they uncovered a shallow grave where animal control officers discovered the remains of at least one dog.
Police expect to make more arrests, but some of the people who have come forward to help have also said they were afraid for their safety.
"Some of the witnesses involved in this case are scared," police department spokesman Don Martin told ABCNews.com. "They're saying, 'I'm not sure if my dog is worth having my house burned down or bullets going through my windows.' "
Despite the gruesome condition of the dogs, the accommodations for the animals were new, clean and probably expensive, Chambers said.
"The setup was very professional," he said. "The pens and the kennels were constructed from new materials. There's no way I'm going to believe that 18-year-old kid came up with the money for that place himself," he said.
The case struck residents of the city deeply because some of the victims of the abuse were stolen family pets.
"It hurt, it hurt me so bad," said Dorothy Jones, whose pit bull, Sara, was stolen from her backyard in January. "I always keep a leash on her on the back porch so she doesn't run the yard and bark, and I went out to leash her and I couldn't find her."
Neighbors said they saw two men force her dog over the fence, Jones told KLTV.
"I was hysterical," she said.
Two months later, a friend told Jones about pit bulls being rescued from a fighting ring. One of them was Sara. However, the marks on Sara's face are evidence of abuse at the hands of dog fighters.
"She's scarred up, her face and all, all of these, all of this," Jones said, showing the scratches and bite marks on Sara's body.
Some of the other eight dogs found in the home were not as lucky as Sara. Animal control officers brought them all to the Humane Society of Smith County.
"They had obviously been in fights. They had scars all over their heads, bite marks and their ears were clipped," Humane Society operations manager Terry Cashion said. "That's one trait of a fighting dog."
After the rescued dogs were examined, seven that were unclaimed were euthanized. Cashion said it was a step that the Humane Society was forced to take because the dogs had been turned vicious by their treatment at the hands of dog fighters.
"It's hard to rehabilitate them," she said. "And the liability that goes along with it, we just can't adopt that type of dog."
Police said they believe Johnson, the alleged ringleader in the case, trained the dogs to fight or used them for bait, all for cash.
Jones said the charges against him seem like just a slap on the wrist.
"It's like taking someone's child," she said. "I mean, it wouldn't be a misdemeanor if it was a baby, kidnapped, abused. That's terrible. People will say it's not the same. Animals and kids are not the same. No, they're not. Children are little human beings but our pets are our pets. They're still God's creatures; they shouldn't be treated like that."