SEFFNER -- Hillsborough County Animal Services officials uncovered a massive dog fighting ring that they say has been in operation for two decades. Officials can’t put an exact number of dogs involved but they do say the number is in the hundreds.
The two property owners, Vanny and Russell Franklin, showed no remorse and they jokingly laughed with investigators and were flippant in their remarks, officials said. HCAS rescued seven severely-injured dogs, among them Rudolph, Rockefeller, and China. China, they say, was used as a breeding dog. All of those who were taken out alive were infested with fleas and parasites and living in deplorable conditions. Investigators say they acted on an anonymous tip they received Monday. They found enough probable cause on the property that led them to the horrific find. "While we were at the property, the individual there admitted to us he'd been fighting dogs out there for 20 years and jokingly said we were walking on a graveyard," said Sgt. Pam Perry, of Hillsborough County Animal Services, who was in tears relaying some of the graphic details about the discovery. In addition to the dogs still alive, investigators found skeletal remains, skulls, and a lot of bones. "A lot of chains with no dogs on them,” said Perry. “So I don't know where they are. Probably deceased." The house is in a very rural area of Seffner off of Stark Road, far away enough from neighbors that officials say you'd never be able to hear an animal's cries for help. The shocking find is tough, even for the most seasoned of investigators. "Walking on the property you know you are walking on dogs that have passed away," said Perry. Twenty years of torture, abuse, and cruelty and for the handful of dogs still alive, there’s hope they can survive and one day find good homes. "These are very nice dogs,” said Perry. “They are good with people and they deserve better." Investigators will be back at the property again on Wednesday to dig up the ground for more evidence of these crimes.
Officials will also be searching for and charging anyone else connected with the dog fighting. Vanny and Russell Franklin, who officials say are convicted felons, are expected to face a judge on Wednesday.