Archer resident Becky Harn first saw a dead pitbull when she moved to Archer two years ago. On Sept. 18, she found another pitbull — dead, skinny and scarred — in the field by her house.
Harn’s sightings aren’t the only pitbull findings reported. Reports of dead pitbulls and other mixed breeds go back at least two years, according to the Archer Word of Mouth Facebook group.
Harn, 45, has since started a Facebook group called “Archer FL Stop Dog Fighting and Animal Abuse,” and at least two dogs have been reported since she created the group Sept. 28. The group also includes a step-by-step guide to reporting the dogs to the Alachua County Animal Services and UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Harn opened an investigation with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 19, which is still ongoing, according to ACSO. ACSO is investigating one count of felony animal cruelty, according to the incident report. Felony animal cruelty is punishable by up to five years and a $5,000 fine.
Residents suspect dogfighting is what’s causing this surge in mysterious pitbull and mixed breed deaths around the city of Archer. Archer City Manager Tony Hammond is looking into the cause of deaths, according to Iris Bailey, Archer mayor.
Dogfighting is when dogs are bred and conditioned to fight other dogs in a pit for entertainment and gambling purposes, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Most fighting dogs endure abuse and mistreatment from birth.
Fights average between one to two hours and result in major injuries including severe bruising, puncture wounds and broken bones. Other injuries like blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or infection can cause fatalities, according to the Humane Society.
As of Oct. 1, there have been no major developments or arrests made. There is not enough evidence or probable cause to establish any crime, according to ACSO Spokesperson Art Forgey.
ACSO told Harn they couldn’t make arrests without an address or concrete evidence of animal abuse, she said.
Many residents refuse to speak on the topic because they fear retaliation, Harn said.
“I think a lot of people here in Archer know that this was not just a small thing,” Harn said. “It's not one house. It's, from my understanding, not one localized area. It's in Bronson. It's in Williston. It’s in Archer.”
Many of the dogs were starved, cut, bruised and covered in sores, according to pictures shared with The Alligator. Some were left in bags, or covered by a blanket, according to Facebook reports, and some of the female dogs appeared to have recently given birth.
Some Archer residents think the dogs being left behind are bait dogs. Bait dogs are non-aggressive dogs used to train fighting dogs. Typically, they refuse to fight, or don’t fight well, and are used because they won’t fight back or injure the fighting dogs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
An Archer resident named Leah, who requested the omission of her last name out of caution for her safety, lives outside of Archer city limits and has reported deceased and living dogs every few months since February 2021 when she and her husband discovered the first dog, she said.
Leah and her husband have saved a few of the dogs that have been left alive.
“We've had to keep one for a week at tops, and they're just the sweetest dogs, not aggressive at all,” she said. “That's probably why they're just thrown away because they're not doing the job but it just breaks my heart.”
Reported hotspots where dogs have been found include the area between Jordon Glen Elementary and nearby railroad tracks, Southwest 141st Road and Southwest 170th St.
At least 12 dogs have been found over the last two years, according to The Alligator’s investigation.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.