APOPKA, Fla. - Most of the 26 people who were arrested as authorities closed in on what they said was a sophisticated dogfighting ring in Apopka have posted bond Thursday.
The people accused of abusing the dogs made their first appearance in front of a judge.
Investigators said when the ring was broken up Tuesday night, the dogs' owners abandoned them in cars and crates or let them loose in the neighborhood. Puppies were found in cages as well.
Officials said the dogs will remain in the hands of Orange County Animal Services to be evaluated. The animals will be in isolation until the investigation is complete.
"The dogs seem very relieved that they're here. They've been doing much better. They've been looked at by our vets and they are getting the medical treatment they need," said Carolina Mlynarczyk of Orange County Animal Services.
Channel 9 spoke with a man who lives in the home. Delvaughn Dawson claims it was not part of a dogfighting ring and his dad, one of the arrestees, loves dogs and likes to take them in. He said the treadmill was used to keep the dogs in shape and the punching bag was his.
“Pops always been taking in dogs whenever someone has a hurt dog,” Dawson said. "It's a family with a lot of dogs."
Authorities said dogs weren’t the only ones living in the deplorable conditions, but children were as well.
The children are being looked after by family members under supervision of the Department of Children and Families.
Suspects involved could face felony charges. The third-degree felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison or they may have to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
Officials cannot yet determine how many of the dogs will be adoptable.
Dawson said his family helps dogs and wants them back, and now WFTV found out the dogs could become the center of a custody battle.
Animal services officials said they are petitioning for custody of the animals, but said it is not uncommon for the owners to try to get them back.
"No one has stepped forward to claim these dogs as theirs, but we are currently filing a petition for custody," said Mlynarczyk.
The dogs are considered evidence in a crime, but Apopka police also consider them victims of cruelty, which could help protect them in a custody battle in court.
Channel 9 learned a confidential informant told police the dogfighting ring would travel throughout central Florida and the group would allegedly coordinate fights through social media.
"I do not understand and will never understand who can get pleasure out of the cruelty of that," said Sgt. Kim Walsh of the Apopka Police Department.
Authorities said the dogs were found chained up and were friendly to humans, but not to each other.
"These animals weren't being protected and cared for properly and we're going to do the best we can to take care of them," said Mlynarczyk.
There were large collars found nearby and at least two dozen pot plants growing, authorities said.
One dog that was rescued had a broken leg and was walking on its knuckles.
Thirty-four dogs were rescued during the bust.