Last Updated: 8:53 p.m.
When Caroline Johnson approached the dog in a grassy ditch on County Road 205, off of County Road 13 in Espanola, Sunday morning, the dog was in agony.
“Awful, no energy, totally depleted of energy,” Johnson, a tireless animal advocate and volunteer who runs the Lost and Found Pets of Palm Coast and Flagler County on Facebook, said. The dog she and Flagler Humane Society Director Amy Carotenuto would later call Grace was “pretty much lifeless.” She had open wounds, the biggest one on the front paw toward the chest, “which was so badly infected it was pouring out infection, she couldn’t move or anything or get her head up.”
The dog had many signs of being a bait dog, a dog used to train fighting dogs, which has long been illegal. Espanola has long been on authorities’ radar as a problem area with dogs. “Sometimes they get loose,” an official said.
Grace was emaciated down to perhaps 35 pounds, her every rib and spine protruding. Johnson wrapped her in a sheet, placed her in the front seat of her car and drove her to Flagler Animal Hospital.
Johnson had been alerted about Grace by Lauren Myers, who found her as she was driving and first posted images of her on Facebook (an injured back kept her from lifting the dog). Johnson then put out a call on Facebook for donations to pay the bills of her care and to raise awareness about the discovery and the possibility that dogs are getting abused to that extent. Between three Facebook posts Johnson published, she raised some $8,000 in that short span, all of it directed to the Flagler Humane Society. “Amy and I were just discussing a name and saying we need something fitting with her, with everything she’s been through. I came up with the name Grace,” Johnson said.
Sunday morning around 6, Grace died.
The Humane Society is offering a $2,500 reward to “the first person with information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for this dog’s injuries and lack of care,” according to a flier circulating since.
Residents wrote several messages to the Sheriff’s Office as word of Grace’s fate went viral in the county and beyond. By Monday, the Sheriff’s Office had launched an investigation, but a deputy found out that the examining doctor would not be back until Wednesday. But from conversations with other veterinarians at the hospital, “it was determined the dog was approximately 7 to 8 years of age and arthritic,” a sheriff’s report noted. “It was also septic due to its untreated injuries.” A doctor at the hospital said “the dog’s injuries are consistant of that of a dog being used as a bait dog,” the report continues. “The dog’s teeth appeared to have also been filed down,” a technique their owner-abusers use to keep them from fighting back or injuring attack dogs.
Deputies searched the area where Johnson had found Grace, and extended the search to the Espanola Cemetery for clues, but came up empty. Flagler Animal Control went door-to-door in Espanola, handing out a flier soliciting any information about the dog, again with no fruitful responses. Deputies visited one particular address on Knox Jones Road, known to have many dogs.
Even if Grace was not a bait dog, her injuries were so severe that the neglect amounts to felony abuse. “We just don’t know,” Carotenuto said. “It’s not necessarily organized dog fighting, it could just be an irresponsible owner, the dog could have been attacked by another animal and they didn’t seek veterinary care. Either way it’s animal cruelty.”
By Tuesday, Adam Leath had offered to work with Flagler County authorities on animal abuse cases. Leath, who took part in Flagler’s last extensive seminar on animal cruelty in 2018, at the Emergency Operations Center, is Volusia County’s animal control director and played a key role in the arrest of three men in mid-March accused of running a dogfighting ring. Some 42 dogs, all of them pitbulls, including 18 puppies, were rescued. Grace will also be taken to an animal hospital in Gainesville for a necropsy by a forensic pathologist. The necropsy will more accurately determine what led to Grace’s injuries.
Meanwhile, Johnson is continuing her campaign in Grace’s memory. “My hope is that we can raise awareness and start having people be the eyes for the animals and start reporting what they see,” Johnson said. She has little doubt that due to the extent of Grace’s injuries–and her age, now that it has been established–she could not have passed unnoticed. Someone saw. Johnson is hoping even for anonymous tips. (Johnson adopted her first pitbull from the Humane Society when she moved here many years ago, when she’d still head fears of pitbulls–until she learned of their loving and loyal capacities. She began helping out on the Lost Pets page, eventually taking it over and getting into different areas of rescue over the years, volunteers with the shelter and running adoption events.)
“The hope is that we can save others,” Johnson said. “It’s far-fetched that to say we’re going to put an end to dog fighting because they always find a way, but the more of them we can save, the better.”
As for the reward, it may grow, as people continue to donate toward it. The money, Carotenuto said this evening, “will more than cover” the hospital bill, “it will cover the reward, it should cover anything that we do from here.” If money is not spent on Grace, “it’ll be spent on another animal with another sad story. They’re not at the shelter unless they have a sad story. That’s a message I’d love to get across: everybody wants to help the dog with the super, super sad story, but the shelter is full of heartbreaks. Anybody that feels bad for this dog, come adopt another one that needs a home.”
Animal-cruelty cases are common, convictions of abusers are not. In 2010, a Seminole Woods man called Kenji X pleaded no contest to nine misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals after dog-fighting paraphernalia were found at his property and several dogs were discovered to have signs of abuse and injuries. He was sentenced to 29 days in jail, a year’s probation, 240 hours of community service and had to pay fines. His sentence included his agreement to relocate to the state of Washington within 60 days, within the conditions of his probation. Yet two years later he was charged with felony battery in Flagler, and the charge was eventually dropped. He was still in Flagler in 2014, petitioning for an injunction.
If you have information helpful to the case of Grace, you may remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-8477 or submitting a tip through the P3 Tipps app, or on the sheriff’s website.
Thank you for helping to shine a light on this horror. We have to track this down in our county and put these psychos away, along with any sub-human who finds this “entertainment”, you are just as bad! God forbid these evils are raising children! :(
Tears come to easy when seeing such a sweet baby this way. May God punish those who hurt his creatures. Amen. 🙏
I had never heard the term “Bait Dog” before reading this article. I’m just astounded and infuriated at the level of cruelty some are capable of displaying.
Thanks to Caroline Johnson Grace had a few hours of relative comfort before dying. I can only hope the karma is real and will come back with a vengeance against the perpetrator!
PC Animal Lover says
Sadly, “bait dogs” are a thing and have been for many years. It is sickening. This is one reason animal advocates beg people not to “give away” puppies or small dogs and to try to do a background check. Often, the dog fighters will look specifically for those advertised, pretend to be wonderful adoptive parents, and the next thing you know the poor things are thrown in with a trained fighting dog. People need to understand that this IS happening, especially in rural areas. Remember the NFL player, Michael Vick? He got busted for running a dog fighting operation in a rural area of southeast Virginia several years ago. We lived in the area at the time. After he got caught, he lost his NFL career, the property where the operation was ongoing, and went to jail. From a related news article: “On August 27, 2007, Michael Vick, a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, formally pleads guilty before a Richmond, Virginia, judge to a federal felony charge related to running a dogfighting ring. That December, the 27-year-old Vick, once the highest-paid player in the NFL, was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.”
VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS says
I don’t know if this applies down here that in some states once an abuser is caught and booked that abusers name is put on a public animal abuse registry along with their picture and address like sex offenders. The link between violence against animals and against human beings is well documented in the form of domestic violence, child abuse and in certain case even murder. Almost every serial killer started by persecuting animals before they moved on to human beings. More and more states are taking action against convicted animal abusers revealing their names on such a registry. Now Gracie can rest in peace for she no longer has to endure the pain and suffering whoever these sorry excuses of low life humans are and have placed upon her short miserable life here on earth. May their pain and suffering come a million times worst.
Wrong person to PISS OFF says
Find the scum that caused this dog to suffer in agony and thrown in a ditch to die. I WANT THEIR ASSES STRUNG UP BY THEIR NECKS UNTIL DEAD……… Find them NOW STALEY !!!!
I pray the person or people involved get bit hard by karma! This poor girl had to wait till the end of her life to know kindness and love! Animal and child abusers need to have built in electric shock device!
Thank you Caroline and Flagler Animal Hospital for giving Grace the much needed love and comfort at the end of her life. She is running the Rainbow Bridge free of fear and pain!
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.
Flagler county is pitbull county. There really is little reason to own these dogs, beyond/unless you have a salvage yard of wrecked car parts to protect. They usually end up at the humane society for rehome/adoption. I get they can be normal pets, but it’s the one time they attack or even turn on the owner & family that is catastrophic. I get all dogs bite, but this reed has a bear trap for jaws and an arsenal for teeth. I cringe every time I see a neighbor walk a service dog breed or their smaller sub 15-20 lb Shih Tzu, Yorkie or any other breed that is easily fended off. 9.99 times out of 10, the pitbull is the dog that even restrained with a leash, rope or chain is the animal of the 2 that’s trying to get to the other dog. I have neighbors that appear more responsible than other pitbull owners and I also have the one’s that perform their garage clean once or twice a day to clean out the urine & feces as the poor animal being in the garage the entire day that the cleaning process happens. We’re looking at maybe 45-60 minutes a day where an animal that is physically stronger than most isn’t properly exercised. In that time the owner has to stake the animal out in the yard. And with 2 or more of them they’re trying to get at each other as play or establishing a dominance of the other.
As the summer approaches, even with water & food, a non-air conditioned garage is no place to keep an animal for extended periods of time. Is it any wonder the pitbull bolts at every opportunity from it’s own owners/family. Just my own zero tolerance, these animals are not welcome on my property. I’d also prefer others not walk their other breeds around because they don’t pick up the feces for one, and that if one or several of the neighbor’s pitbull(s) gets “away” from them as individual threat or a pack or pitbulls. The potential for attack is not worth having to get involved. I simply don’t even want to be scared to perform yard maintenance with a pitbull around. You can’t even ride your bicycle without one trying to get at you and that’s crossing the street to give them space. Not much I can do but try to be alert & aware, avoid the owner & their pitbull. In every case where a attack has happened, it’s the same story, the dog has no history of aggression, got away accidentally as unsecured, and the owner is always sorry. That’s unacceptable. You better have the insurance for that level of an attack, because pitbull owners need to be held financially accountable & responsible at the very least. My interpretation of it. Another can pull a knife or gun on another and when their pitbull attacks that is just a different choice of weapon that the owner chose to unleash or pull on a neighbor.
Unfortunate that this dog was abused, but that’s a criminal owner issue. This article indicated that the dog has evidence of dog fighting abuse. At one time these may have been nanny dogs, but in 2021, they have become dog fighting ring animals & drug dealing operation dogs. All one needs to do is connect the dots between the drug houses that get shut down and the proximity of this breed of dog. These aren’t typically hunting dogs like labs or hound dogs. Like I said before they’re really salvage yard guard dogs.
I don’t understand your commentary. Would you have been more sympathetic if it had been a Labrador that had been terribly abused all their life and then left to die in a ditch?
As for your assessment of the breed, I would have agreed with you a few years ago, and I have often said that I would never own a Pitbull. However, I have come to know the Pitbull breed only because both of my “away from home” college age daughters have adopted Pitbull mixed rescue dogs. I was furious at first because of the reputation of the breed and the liability that comes with owning a Pitbull. But, I have come to know both dogs very well, since they spend a great deal of time with me as owning a dog in college is not a great idea.
I have had dogs all my life and have never known a breed more capable of showing love. Pitbulls most definitely are over bred and I do think that folks that have no business being a pet owners let alone breeders gravitate towards the Pitbulls – not to mention the deplorable type that engage in dog fighting. I don’t even have words to describe how infuriated I am to learn of the term “bait dog”!
When you own a Pitbull, I believe you should understand the unique responsibilities that come with owning a dog that has an awesome capability to do damage and take precautions. However, it’s unfair to blame the breed when owners do not accept and follow through with that responsibility.
VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS says
Jumbo: Again another misinterpretation of an article. You don’t have a CLUE about this breed. You have more of a chance of getting robbed and shot by a criminal down here than you do on a pit bull attack, these poor dogs are always getting a bum rap because of careless owners who should not own the breed since they do not know how to handle the breed. I have friends who own pit bulls of whom they raised with their babies. And you seem to have little remorse of the pain and suffering this animal had endured her short life by the worst animal on earth the sub humans who abused her. If I were you I would be more chicken s–t to go to our local WAWA station where there appears to be more crimes day and night. Again this article is not about you and riding your bike.
@ Jimbo report the neighbors who keep their dogs in the garage ! This isn’t right and you don’t need to identify yourself while doing so. My heart breaks for all dogs / animals that are abused daily and we never hear about it till its to late. And to those who know about these abusive owners, they should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping up and reporting the abuse. Animals are a man’s best friend if raised and treated right !
I hope you file an anonymous report of any houses in your area that you observe treating these dogs like that. Thanks for the insights, too sad all around.
Please look into the correct statistics of dogs who actually bite. You’ll be shocked to learn that these pits you’re so quick to judge aren’t near the top of the list. Try all the little lap dogs…terriers…larger breeds such as hounds, Dalmatians… I’m happy my neighbors aren’t as judgmental as you. :) I have a fully trained service dog who happens to be a 104 lb blue nose pitbull. He is also a foster dad to my foster KITTENS and my two year olds best friend. Try not to judge every single dog by the way they look or their DNA.
Also… if you’re this concerned about your neighbors and their dog perhaps you should call animal control and report the treatment of their animal. It would take less time and be EXTREMELY more productive compared to the time it took you to write this pointless, whiny, (very outdated) and hate filled rant you’ve created.
Human nature will find itself only when it fully realizes that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal.
Proof that humans, no matter what race, are the absolute worst species on the planet, and why I don’t like most of them. Go ahead label me a racist, cause the human race sucks.
Steve Vanne says
How can a human being be so cruel. These morons need to be found. Sad part if they are found there’ll only get a slap on the wrist. We need some street justice here!
The laws are slowly changing. We need more awareness for the public so our animal abuse laws will change faster and punishments will be harsher.
You must find these responsible people and put them in jail. Sad.
YUP The very people screaming Racism have some of their own skeletons in the closet that continue to do this day. Dog fighting alive and well. A disgusting practice by low life uneducated heartless humans who would do the same to you or I for sport. No animal should be bred and then subjected to this abuse for this purpose. Cruelty plain and simple conducted and watched by sick individuals. Animals themselves. They should be given some of their own practice when caught IMO. Can only hope the dogd get out and tear them to shreds one day.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
I could not stop crying when I read this last night thinking about this poor God’s little baby spending her last day alone in a ditch. The only comfort was that she spent her final hours in the arms of loving people and hopefully did not suffer. This is beyond brutal. I hope the guilty party gets a life sentence. How could any human being be so evil is heart wrenching.
PC Animal Lover says
If only the punishment fit the crime. Sadly, it rarely does. Anyone who would do this is a subhuman sadist with no regard for life in general. Think about what kind of mind takes pleasure in watching (and encouraging) two living creatures to rip each other to pieces, and even goes so far as to partially disable one of them (filed down teeth, starving them) to ensure the prize dog isn’t injured in “training.” Disgusting POS’s out there. If only we could administer the justice they deserve.
Sheriff Staly, I know you have other fish to fry, but please do whatever you can with your resources to find the people who are responsible. You are likely to find many other suffering animals and perhaps save a few before they meet this fate.
RIP sweet Grace. I’m sorry that the humans in your life SUCKED beyond words.
If you see or hear something say something. Any human that can do this to a helpless animal can do it to a child or anyone for that matter. You have to be one sick human being to be involved with dogfighting rings or animal abuse and have no business walking our streets freely.
Animals can’t speak but they have feelings and can feel pain just like any human being. God put humans and animals on this earth for a reason and it wasn’t to abuse them but to treat them the way you want to be treated.
Please contact the Flagler County Sheriff Office, Flagler Animal Control or Palm Coast Animal Control with any information you may have on abuse of any animal; as I said if you see or hear something say something.
I plead to Sheriff Staly to bring back Detective Annie Conrad to effectively investigate these animal cruelty cases as she did before as I haven’t seeing her name reported in charge of it lately. She resolved many cases years back and had felons convicted and jailed. She has the training, certifications and compassion and love for all animals needed to succeed in her investigations..https://WGNTV.COM/NEWS/MAN-ACCUSED-OF-CHOKING-SEVERELY-INJURING-ROOMMATES-YORKIE-FOR-ACTING-LIKE-A-DOG/AMP/?FBCLID=IWAR1NQ1E1H8UXQZWAHBE0RIDB4GKJYCUKSHO3YYXF9RII4VCFDGPNO6EFSU0
In the past we saw her all the time in investigative reports or community informative events about our beloved animals. https://www.facebook.com/messenger_media/?thread_id=100038408329708&attachment_id=2358930180918118&message_id=mid.%24cAAAAD1fhBaZ-2RpoV14p9CfpTFSx
We saw Detective Annie Conrad effectiveness in action before: https://www.facebook.com/messenger_media/?thread_id=100038408329708&attachment_id=265702731873159&message_id=mid.%24cAAAAD1fhBaZ-2RqGlF4p9CkkIo-i