An animal cruelty investigation is underway in Winston County after three emaciated pit bulls were rescued from an abandoned Haleyville home and two others found dead.

One of the dead dogs was still chained to a wall. The other had chewed up its bowl in what rescuers believe was a last-ditch effort to stay alive. One of the surviving dogs is so ill he is urinating broken-down muscle tissue.

“I am sick and heartbroken over this,” Johnna Franks, founder and director Free State Four Paws, said of the scene on 28th Street.

Franks said the ordeal Tuesday night followed nearly two months of rescue workers trying to get help for the dogs inside of the home. The owner, she said, left the house and the dogs behind following a supposed foreclosure on the property but had a family member stopping by to give the dogs food and water. Eventually, though, even that stopped.

The rescuers took pictures of the dogs and called police. Franks said Haleyville officers went to the home several times, but said their hands were tied because the dogs had shelter and, at that time, food and water. A neighbor also had filed a complaint, Franks said, but nothing was done.

On Tuesday, another neighbor reached out to Franks. “She called me crying. She said, “Johnna, I smelled a terrible smelling coming from that house and I knew what it was,” Franks said. “She got in her car and drove until she found a police officer.”

The police responded to the home, Franks said, but still didn’t go inside. They reached out to the animal control officer who is shared by Winston and Marion counties, but she was busy. That’s when police called Free State Four Paws and asked them to come get the dogs.

“I was trying to think where we would put them,” Franks said. The rescue group doesn’t have a central facility but instead uses foster homes for their rescued dogs. At the time they were called to the Haleyville home, they were already housing 100 rescues spread over about 20 foster homes.

Franks said the responded to the home with a plan to at least give the dogs food and water. She said the police told her if she couldn’t take the dogs, they would have to rely on animal control. “We trying to stay one step ahead of animal control because we know what that means,” she said.

An officer accompanied them to the home and helped them get inside. “And there it was,” Franks said. “It was horrible. It’s hard to describe.”

One female dog was inside the house, and a male and female were in the garage. Also in the garage were the two dead dogs, one of them inside a crate. “When I went in the garage and saw the one in the crate, I just broke down crying like a baby,” Franks said.

The female dog in the house was the healthiest, Franks said. The animal advocates know she was pregnant when they were there in September, but they have no idea what happened to her puppies. The other female dog had teats and the veterinarian confirmed both dogs had recently delivered puppies. One of them was still making milk. The owner, she said, has been known to breed and sell.

Franks said two other dogs had previously died at the home and had been left on the street for trash pickup.

The three surviving dogs are at the vet. One of them is heartworm positive. The male is not doing well. He is on an IV and expected to be hospitalized for quite a while if he survives.

Franks said police have now stepped up the investigation and she is now hoping no only for criminal charges, but for felony charges. “People should not be allowed to get away with this,” she said. “This is not over. This case will never be over.”

This stories happened before 2018

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