Man arrested on aggravated animal cruelty charges in connection with abuse of six dogs

Six pit bulls were found leashed in a backyard, covered in injuries and without access to food, water or adequate shelter.

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A Palm Coast Man was arrested on four felony counts of animal cruelty against his six pit bull terriers.

The man, Willie Gardner III, turned himself in to the Sheriff Perry Hall Inmate Facility on Nov. 8, almost a month after the Bunnell Police Department's investigation began. Police had responded on Oct. 14 to complaints from residents in the 500 block of South Railroad Street in Bunnell, reporting that multiple dogs were abandoned at the home, according to a press release from BPD.

Willie Gardner III. Photo courtesy of the Bunnell Police Department
Willie Gardner III. Photo courtesy of the Bunnell Police Department

Gardner, of Palm Coast, was storing the animals at the home, according to the police report. The family who inherited the home after its occupant died told BPD officers that no one had permission to be there or to store their dogs there, the report said.

The dogs were kept apart and chained on short leashes across the back yard. They were surrounded by feces, had no water and only one dog had access to any amount of food, the report said. All six dogs had fresh and old injuries and illnesses, and had little to no shelter available to them, according to the press release.

All six dogs were rescued by BPD and Flagler Animal Control on Oct. 14 and are currently receiving care at the Flagler Humane Society.

BPD officers and Flagler County Sheriff Office detectives worked together to investigate the situation and identified Gardner as the dogs’ owner. Gardner was already subject to a civil petition from Flagler County Animal Control in January of this year to determine his ability to sufficiently care for the dogs in his possession, the press release said.

That petition ended with a county judge ordering Gardner to ensure the animals had adequate food, water and shelter access and requiring he update Animal Control with vaccination documentation and up-to-date street addresses for six months.

 Gardner called the Humane Society on Oct. 17, the press release said, to claim the dogs. FCSO detectives obtained a search warrant, and found 50 videos on his cell phone depicting the dogs fighting or injured, with Gardner or his voice in them, the press release said.

A warrant for Gardner’s arrest was issued on Nov. 7, though police were unable to apprehend him until he turned himself in to the county jail on Nov. 8, the press release said.

“I want to thank the citizens who came forward to report their concerns about these dogs and their condition,” Bunnell Police Chief David Brannon said. “Also, thank you to Bunnell Officer Zapata and Flagler Sheriff’s Detective Conrad for their teamwork and thoroughness to bring this difficult case to a successful conclusion, and holding Willie Gardner accountable for this disgusting case of cruelty to these dogs.”

Gardner, who was held on a $40,000 bond, made bail and was released by 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. He is scheduled to appear for arraignment on Dec. 19.


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