KEY LARGO -- Monroe County Sheriff's Office detectives are investigating what the Upper Keys' top animal control official is calling one of the worst cases of animal cruelty she has seen in her career of more than 30 years.
The case involves a female pit bull terrier that was found with a possible gunshot wound to the back of the head, stuffed in a black plastic garbage bag with duct tape bound around her neck and wrapped around her snout. She survived one day thanks to the man who found and freed her, Key Largo's Daniel Rossler. But her injuries were so severe that she had to be put down the next day.
Rossler discovered the abused dog in the morning on July 22 while driving along Gun Club Road in Key Largo, which is on the ocean side of U.S. 1 around mile marker 101.5.
"How could anyone do that? The nature of the cruelty that I saw, how could that be in somebody's head," Rossler said last week.
Rossler saw the bag on the side of the road and noticed it was moving. He knew something was inside.
"It wasn't windy, so something else was making it move," Rossler said. "As I got closer, I saw a paw sticking out of the bag. Then I tore the bag open and I saw the dog."
Rossler immediately cut the tape off the dog's neck and carefully unwrapped the tape from around her snout. He thought, after surviving such an act of human-inflicted cruelty, the animal just might lash out when completely freed. But she showed no signs of aggression, and once the tape was completely off, she allowed Rossler to pet her, and she followed him wherever he went.
"She was very friendly," Rossler said. "She was rubbing up against me and she stayed by my side."
Rossler drove the dog to the nearby Florida Keys Shooting Club, where a member called both the Sheriff's Office and the Humane Animal Care Coalition, the county's animal control agency in the Upper Keys, the club’s president John Sutter said.
While Rossler waited for animal control, he gave the dog water. Although she appeared thirsty and consumed about a liter of it, the dog had trouble getting her tongue all the way out of her mouth because of her injuries.
Marsha Garrettson, who heads the Animal Care Coalition, said her veterinarian concluded the dog had been shot in the back of the head, and the bullet went on to damage the animal's nasal passage. The duct tape was fashioned around the dog's neck in a way that would eventually asphyxiate her.
The dog also suffered other abuse, including having her canine teeth smashed out, and her ears were cut short. Nevertheless, she never seemed to have lost her desire for human affection.
"She was wagging her tail when she was with us, even after suffering through all that abuse," Garrettson said.
But although the dog appeared to be recovering, she did not survive through the next day. She began to bleed internally, and Garrettson's staff had to euthanize her.
"She was suffering, and we had to give the animal its dignity," Garrettson said. "We had to do what's right for the animal."
The news devastated Rossler, who found out after he called Garrettson while he was driving.
"I had to pull over," said Rossler, a dog owner who wanted to adopt the abused animal. "I just broke down."
Garrettson suspects the dog was part of a Miami-Dade dogfighting operation -- either a breeder or a "bait dog," a dog fighting pit bulls attack for practice.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said the agency has assigned a detective to investigate.
"We've got a crime here," she said. "And we will be looking into who could have done this."