Authorities suspect drug, dog-fighting operation

Investigators find marijuana growing in a Thonotosassa house where they seized pit bulls and other animals.

Published February 2, 2006

TAMPA - A phone tip led authorities Wednesday to a Thonotosassa property they say housed marijuana-growing and dog-fighting operations. Now, investigators are trying to track down the property owner.

Hillsborough County Animal Services investigators Ken Vetzel and Loretta Bradley executed a search warrant for 7713 Muddy Water Trail at 9 a.m. after receiving information that animals were being housed there in cruel and unsafe conditions, said Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan. No one was home when authorities conducted the search.

Property records show the property is owned by Sheri Lynn and John Dudley Henderson.

It was unclear whether they were living there, but records indicate the land is homesteaded.

Once inside the house, investigators also found evidence that marijuana was being grown there.

They contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's agricultural unit and narcotics squad for help.

Sheriff's investigators found 7 pounds of marijuana, some of it harvested and drying out.

There were plants of varying sizes, some still in pots, according to a sheriff's report.

Ryan said guns were also found.

Animal Services investigators found eight adult pit bullterriers and six puppies, several with cuts and sores.

They also took a cat, and the sheriff's agricultural unit took two cows, Ryan said.

Ryan said investigators found three dog skulls on the property.

"We don't know if they died of fighting, or if they were bait dogs," she said.

There was equipment on site typically used in the training of fight dogs, including an old treadmill and a spring with a leather leash that is used to strengthen a dog's jaw.

Investigators found a medical kit with syringes, salves and ointments commonly used to treat injured fight dogs, Ryan said. They think dogs were bred on the property, though it is not clear whether fights took place there.

"Dog fighting is a cancer. It is very prevalent in the community," Ryan said. "These people know how to pick up their portable fighting rings and move around."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com