APOPKA, Fla. - Twenty-six people were arrested as authorities closed in on what they said was a sophisticated dogfighting ring in Apopka.
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.
"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.
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.
Between 25-40 people fled into the neighborhood on Seventh Street, but officers were able to arrest 26 suspects.
"We've had seven transported tonight, four of them with Taser deployments. One of them was apprehended by an Apopka K-9, and then several others were for other illnesses related to their attempts to flee," said Walsh.
Apopka police said they've been investigating the dog-fighting ring for several months.
Channel 9's Steve Barrett got an inside look at the alleged dog-fighting operation.
Apopka police allowed WFTV to see the conditions that the animals were forced to live in before the 34 dogs were rescued.
Authorities said the dogs were found chained up and were friendly to humans but not to each other.
There were large collars found nearby and at least two dozen pot plants growing, authorities said.
Barrett said with so many dogs and cages, the smell was overwhelming.
One dog that was rescued had a broken leg and was walking on its knuckles.
A raccoon used to train the dogs was also rescued. On the property, authorities found the carcass of another raccoon that had been killed.
The actual dog-fighting ring was walled off but that wall was knocked over as dozens fled during the raid, authorities said.
In one room, there was a punching bag used to train the dogs to attack and treadmills used to exercise the dogs, authorities said.
Channel 9 spoke to 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.
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.
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.
Officials cannot yet determine how many of the dogs will be adoptable.