SOUTH HOLLAND | Cook County sheriff's police raided a South Holland home Friday morning and found what investigators are calling the largest dog-fighting training operation in the state.
Investigators with a search warrant found 37 pit bulls, as well as other breeds that were used as training bait, three treadmills and drugs believed to be amphetamines used to bring out the fighting instinct.
"Each of these (pit bulls) were fighting dogs," Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said during a news conference outside the home at 15909 S. Cottage Grove Ave. "They were bred to be fighting dogs."
Sheriff's police arrested a 29-year-old South Holland man who owns the home, Dart said.
Formal charges had yet to be filed, but Kevin Taylor remained in custody Friday pending charges from the Cook County state's attorney's office.
On June 15, a Livingston County jury convicted Taylor on a Class C misdemeanor charge of attending an outdoor dog-fighting event in downstate Pontiac, Livingston County assistant state's attorney Carey Luckman said. The charge stems from a Sept. 11, 2005, arrest, he said.
Taylor paid a fine of $1,275 and spent six days in jail, a total that counts his initial arrest and subsequent arrests on bench warrants after he failed to show for court dates, Luckman said.
Taylor's home sits in a residential area, and police found the dogs in a barn directly behind a small ranch-style home.
Inside the barn, an insulation and ventilation system, originally used when a previous owner raised chickens, helped keep down noise and smell, police said.
"People in the area, this is going to come as a shock," said 53-year-old Charles Dixon, who lives on Drexel Avenue, directly behind the barn.
Dixon complained last year to his backyard neighbor about the smell of dog feces but never saw how many dogs were involved.
"We knew he raised dogs," Dixon said. "We had no idea he had this many dogs or what they were for."
Officers wore industrial masks Friday as they rescued the dogs, which were kept in pet transport carriers in the barn and positioned in a way that restricted sunlight. Several of the carriers had bite marks around their openings.
Dart described the conditions inside the barn as horrible.
"It's very difficult to breathe inside," he said. "The smell is overwhelming, and the conditions are deplorable."
Cook County Animal Control personnel were on the scene to take the dogs to local animal hospitals, animal shelters and humane society branches.
Some of the dogs were injured and maimed. Others were in "tip-top condition," Dart said.
"We have dogs ranging from weeks-old puppies to older dogs, quite a few that are damaged," he said.
Investigators did not find evidence that led them to believe dog fighting occurred on the premises, Dart said. Rather, the home served as the base for breeding and training, he said.
In the house, investigators recovered a boa constrictor, a computer, suspected crack cocaine and drugs believed to be amphetamines for the dogs, Dart said.
Friday's search warrant came after the Sheriff's Department received a tip in May from a resident, and an investigation began at that time, Cook County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Penny Mateck said.