The six dogs, all pitbulls, all showed signs of abuse and neglect when Bunnell police, animal control and a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy surveyed the scene at 508 South Railroad Street in Bunnell. They’d been left all chained in the backyard of the abandoned property, some with water, some without, most with fresh wounds, all with other ailments, as a veterinarian would soon document.
Authorities suspected the dogs were used in fights. Snapchat videos recovered from their owner’s phone appeared to prove them right. One 23-second video shows one of the dogs biting down on the other by the neck “and viciously swinging his neck back and forth,” while a voice is heard inciting the dogs. Another video shows a puppy, wet and with a bloody ear, lying down next to a blood-spattered water bowl. In another, the same man’s voice is heard saying “got into another fight” as the man’s hand touches a black and white pitbull with several fresh bite marks and blood on its snout, jaw and cheek.
The warrant yielded 10 videos from the man’s phone, all of them showing the pitbulls–Kane, Diesel, Gelato, Max, Nova, Pepper–either injured, lacerated, bloody or neglected.
The man’s voice was tied to the phone’s owner, and the dogs’ owner: Willie Gardner III, 28, of 6 Perotti Place in Palm Coast who a year ago had been put under orders by County Judge Andrea Totten to follow strict rules in caring for his dogs. He’d been charged with a misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals, a case still pending in court. On Nov. 9, Totten signed an order forbidding Gardner from owning any pets for five years. The order stemmed from the further evidence of cruelty uncovered in October at the South Railroad Street property, where neighbors’ complaints about dogs at the property had been frequent since last year.
In mid-October, animal control had posted several warnings there, advising the dog owner to respond. The notices cited evidence of animal abandonment, neglect, inadequate shelter and improper tethering, and warned that the animals would be removed if there was no response. Gardner never responded.
Last week, Gardner was booked at the Flagler County jail on four felony counts of animal cruelty causing death, pain and suffering. He was almost immediately released on $40,000 bond.
At one point during the investigation Gardner agreed to meet Flagler County Sheriff’s detective Annie Conrad in a McDonald’s parking lot. He told her he used the dogs to hunt raccoons, hogs and other small animals, and that he lent the dogs to friends to do the same. Conrad told him the wounds on the dogs didn’t look like they were caused by hunting. Gardner blamed them on what he called “yard accidents,” the dogs getting loose in the yard and attacking each other–as two dogs did in front of a police officer at one point, when the dogs were last discovered in that yard and before they’d received some care.
That home had belonged to a man who’d inherited it from his late grandmother, and whose stepson told authorities that he never gave permission to anyone to use the property. The house itself was boarded up, had no running water, was strewn with debris and looked uninhabitable. Gardner said his cousin gave him permission to bring the dogs there from Espanola. The cousin denied doing so, when asked by law enforcement. Neighbors’ surveillance video and witness statements allowed police to establish a timeline of when the dogs had arrived: since around October 10. One of the neighbors who walks his dog in the neighborhood had become concerned about his and his dog’s safety because of the pitbulls, which seemed unsupervised–and whose presence would draw calls to Bunnell police.
“The circumstances appeared to be hazardous to both the animals and the public,” Gardner’s arrest affidavit states. “Furthermore, if the animals did not seek proper veterinarian treatment, and be removed from the filthy squalid conditions, the dogs would sustain further injury to themselves or hurt other animals or persons.”
The Flagler Humane Society took ownership of all the dogs and renamed them, clearly with a touch of humor: every dog was given the name of a famous designer line instead–Michael Kors, Sophia Loren, Prada, Donatella, Coco, George, maybe after George Davies. But at the time that was the only touch of humour that attached to the dogs. Dr. Roberto Aguiar, the veterinarian who examined them, found most of them bearing scars, lacerations and wounds, found them all positive for hookworms, generally associated with unsanitary conditions, and in Max/George’s case, found a wound so infected that puss was seeping out. Aguiar told authorities the wound was possibly the result of fighting.
Enabling dog-fighting is a felony in all 50 states and under federal law.
The dogs were seized from the Railroad Street property before contact would be made with Gardner, who had not responded to numerous advisories and warnings left tacked to the property walls. Gardner then called the Humane Society to reclaim his dogs, which then led to the dog owner’s meeting with Conrad. During that meeting, Gardner showed Conrad one of the videos on his phone of a wet, seemingly lifeless dog.
When Conrad asked him what had happened, he said he’d just washed off that dog because it had been in a dog-fighting incident. He denied involving his dogs in dog fighting, but, according to the arrest report, told Conrad: Fighting dogs do not stop until one dog is dead.”
And one dog had died. Gardner said he’d lent the dog to a friend for some hunting. The dog died. There’s no explanation as to how.
Gardner has a few convictions on misdemeanors, including obstructing officers, but nothing as serious as the charges he now faces. He turned himself in to the jail on Nov. 8 for his booking. Each of the charge he faces is a third-degree felony.
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
Absolutely appalling. Of course they were used for dogfighting. And look at the weight of the chain on that one poor dog’s neck. People like this make me sick. They have no heart and love to exert their power over victims who have no escape. But what is most upsetting is that there have been complaints since LAST YEAR. Someone is accountable for this. And what will happen now? The poor dogs are probably unadoptable and it will cost them their lives. As for that puke Gardner, I hope he ends up in front of a judge who will throw the book at him. We don’t need dogfighting or animal abuse of any kind in Flagler County.
Kathleen Vacchelli says
What took the authorities so long? While time was passing these poor dogs were still abused, still neglected, still fighting and still without any medical aid for their injuries. We need a national register to keep track of these monsters who do this. No wonder these helpless
dogs get a bad rap.
Obviously the prior court order didn’t carry any weight.
The dogs will probably have to be euthanized as their aggressive training makes them doubtful candidates for adoption.
Shame on him and the prior court for letting him off so lightly.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Will … I take the dogs side….U need help
jeffery c. seib says
My hope is that these poor, abused, and discarded animals are not further abused by their new captors and euthanized due to any aggressive tendencies they have been taught by the rotten human beings who hurt them for so long. I hope there are folks in the community who have the ability to take them in and give them the life they have never had, a peaceful life full of love and kindness.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Its ok for humans to be trained and actively fight…
But for other animals, its a felony? While I don’t support animal fighting, this aggressive dog breed should be feared.
The pictures don’t show signs of malnourishment nor do they appear to be overly aggressive to unfamiliar people.
Is it better for the government to kill them?
Aggressive because they’re trained that way. Go look up the police report.
My pit has never bit anyone and she’s 10 years old.
Gardner is a low life. He’s done this A long time. Its what they do. Ingrained in their Culture. Personally I regard it as barbaric and low IQ. To use an as normal like that show He’s an animal himself. Send him away where he belongs
To use an animal like that shows he’s an animal himself
Who is “they”?
Omg. What I want to say would get me banned for life. I truly, 100% despise humans. I do. They always mistreat beings that have been here before us and will survive after we destroy each other. Do not mess with Mother Earth or her children. WE humans are the invaders and she’s had enough of us and frankly, I don’t blame her one bit.
I totally agree with keep Flager Beautiful as is really beautiful our country side except the quietly ignored cruel “revenue making dog fighting businesses”. Why took since last year ignoring complains? Our law enforcement needs to take these investigations as serious as any other crime as animal cruelty and abuse are crimes whether done by good old boys as a money making sport or not! Is as bad as cock fights, bull fights etc.! Humane Society reports finding pittbuls or other dogs used for bait discarded and dying west of Rte 1 Flagler county road ditches and this is more than cruel and the criminals never caught! Like in the sad tragedy of poor Grace: https://flaglerlive.com/162074/grace-dog/ that is more than cruel and the criminals never caught! Dog fighting is as bad as cock fights, bull fights etc.! Grace was picked up by volunteer Carolyn Johnson after a compassionate tipper call in a Spagnola ditch and tried to be saved to no avail…but at least died surrounded by love and hopefully under pain meds without the horrible pains she was found discarded like trash after used as bait per vet. The perpetrator never found…and my question is why? Our law enforcement is excellent fighting other crimes then need to excel with these animal abuser criminals and what about our judges applying harsher penalties to them. There is something that in spite of these criminals go unpunished, we have to appreciate that we have a compassionate excellent Sheriff Investigator Annie Conrad specially trained in this field hope she gets full support from her boss to further investigate criminal activities against animals, also we have our animal control Heather Priestapp and team , volunteers like Carolyne Johnson always ready to drive and save a dog, cat, etc. and our Flagler Humane Society’s help and veterinarians like East Coast ready to serve those abused animals in urgent need. Thank you all and please Sheriff Staly and our cities police units Chiefs, attend an animal abuse case at the “first call” and to the end when the criminal landed in jail and we expect the judges with harsh sentences before is too late and those innocent victims died. Animal cruelty and revenue making dog fights in Flagler County has to end as we are no longer the lawless swamp that was for some. Our domestic pets are family no things. May God help them too.
Eye for an eye. says
Too bad we can’t put this Michael Vick in a cell chained to a wall with some bread and water just out of reach for a few days. Maybe with some open wound dog bite injuries unattended to.
Men who do this use these dogs to provide the masculinity that they themselves are lacking, and they are well aware of it. The dramatic chains are an example, their collars can still be cut. It makes these guys feel tough, at the expense of a trusting, captured animal.
These weak men pick pit bulls for a reason. Like it or not, pit bulls are bred for fighting, hence the name “pit” and “bull.” They are bred for less pain around their heads, more aggression and jaws that are excessively strong. I wish people would stop breeding them and get back to dogs that are good home protectors and not fighters for money and entertainment, or to make a guy feel like a man. Their ears are often cut off with scissors, and they are baited with puppies and small dogs of other breeds that are often stolen.
I disagree with people who state that these men are animals themselves. Only human animals do such unnatural things. Other animals do not.
Mother Nature is extremely cruel in her right. You are incorrect
Put Mr Gardner in a yard with a chain around his neck for a month or so and let him experience how these ( his ) dogs were treated.
That's Enough says
Animal cruelty is wrong but DAMN so is human cruelty! Just by the look of these respondent’s we all got a problem! Especially in light of the clannish politics.
Florida Girl says
Ignorance and cruelty can certainly hit people differently. Thats a disgusting individual who fights OR supports fighting an animal. My feverish hope is that “Willie” gets exactly what he gave. A nice long life in a cage with chains.
Remembering of course that Annie Conrad answers to an administrative AND political hierarchy to a degree. I do have all the faith in the world that she will follow through and make these charges stick with a bright red bow on top of that case file. After that – who knows. I don’t put much faith in these Judges these days, but that’s just my opinion, so there is my two-cents-worth!