Aug. 8, 2006, 12:46AM
DOG RING IN LIBERTY COUNTY
Pit bull operation 'massive'
Police say slaying might be tied to illegal trade; officials wonder how they will house the 300 dogs
By ROSANNA RUIZ and RENÃ‰E C. LEE
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
CLEVELAND - An investigation into a deadly home invasion uncovered what authorities consider a massive pit bull breeding operation that supplied dogs for illegal dog fighting ventures around the country.
Liberty County sheriff's deputies, Harris County Precinct 6 deputy constables and Houston Humane Society investigators seized most of the more than 300 pit bull terriers from filthy conditions at the home in the 2200 block of County Road 2252 east of Cleveland.
Investigators, however, were unable to collect all of the dogs and will return to the home again today. Those taken Monday were turned over to the Humane Society for treatment.
Last week, Thomas F. Weigner Jr., 27, was shot in the leg during the 3 a.m. home invasion and bled to death, authorities said. Weigner's wife, her parents and the couple's three children were bound with tape during Tuesday's incident, but none was harmed, said Liberty County Sheriff Greg Arthur.
One of Weigner's dogs, considered to be his personal guard dog, was also shot and killed after it managed to get loose and attack one of the three intruders.
"At this time, we don't believe it was a random home invasion," Arthur said. "We do believe there's a connection (to the dog ring.)"
Robbery may have been the motive, investigators said.
The men repeatedly demanded money and shot Weigner in an attempt to get him to tell them where he may have hidden money, said Sgt. Kenny Dagle of the Liberty County Sheriff's Department. Two suspects have been questioned, but Arthur was unable to elaborate on the case. No charges have been filed.
Arthur disclosed, however, that Weigner ran the pit bull operation on his 15- to 20-acre spread and had shipped dogs "all over the country." Weigner also ran a similar business in Pennsylvania, where his family returned Saturday to bury Weigner, investigators said.
The number of pit bulls, valued at about $1 million, posed problems for the Liberty County Sheriff's Department, which lacks the resources to handle such a load. Arthur said he had to call on Precinct 6 and the Humane Society, both experienced in such sizable seizures.
"This is the worst case of animal cruelty and the biggest operation we've seen and been involved in," Arthur said.
More than 200 of the dogs were tied to stakes, and kept at a distance from other dogs. Some were forced to stand in pools of mud and their own feces, authorities said. Some of the more vicious dogs had to be tranquilized so they could be carried into small crates.
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