Firefighters located the suspected dogfighting operation Saturday evening west of Rogersville as the forest fire line began descending down the south side of Short Mountain at Tater Hill Road.
The property was located about 300 feet from the top of the mountain in an area accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles. It belongs to Hawkins County native Charvez Nelson Francisco, 50, 3820 Proffit Lane, Knoxville.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday, firefighters came upon the property where they found several dogs chained to vehicle axles that were buried in the ground, as well as about 20 roosters.
Initially firefighters suspected drug activity might be taking place, and the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit responded to the scene.
When deputies arrived, however, the didn’t find evidence of drug activity.
What they found was about 20 dogs chained to the ground with no food or water. Most of the dogs were wounded or scarred.
Close to a nearby barn, deputies also reportedly found a “pit” constructed of plywood in the shape commonly used in dogfighting.
HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the Times-News Monday he believes the pit is used for training dogs. He said there was no evidence of spectator dogfighting activity going on at that location, but there was evidence consistent with dogs being trained to fight at that location, Allen added.
“The fire was coming across the ridge, and they (firefighters) were worried that if the wind hit the right direction that it would put them dogs in danger,” Allen said. “As a matter of fact, the place did end up burning Sunday night. At one time (during Saturday’s rescue operation) with the wind the way it was, they told us we had about 30 minutes. We did the right thing going in there and getting those dogs out.”
Allen said that while rescuing the dogs, deputies observed wounds to the dogs that are consistent with bite marks and fighting. There was also several puppies that had scars consistent with bite marks as well.
Most of the dogs were mixed breed pit bull, although some looked like beagles.
“When we started taking these dogs out of there, we couldn’t let them get close to each other,” Allen said. “When two dogs got close, they started acting up like they were in attack mode with each other. The majority of the dogs looked like they had been bitten by other dogs, and their demeanor was such that you could tell they had been trained to fight.
“They didn’t show aggression toward humans, and they weren’t aggressive toward each other until you got them close to each other.”
The dog evacuation took about nine hours.
The dogs are currently being stored in several locations including Humane Societies in Hawkins, Hamblen, Washington and Jefferson counties.
There were also about 20 roosters, some of which were caged and some of which were running loose. All but one of the roosters were caught and removed from the area for safekeeping.
Rogersville veterinarian Dr. John Slaughter treated some of the dogs for their injuries, and one puppy had to be euthanized.
Francisco was apparently notified by a friend or neighbor that his dogs were being removed from the property. Sunday morning, he contacted the HCSO about retrieving his dogs.
“He did claim ownership of all the animals and all the property,” Allen said. “He came to the Sheriff’s Office Sunday to talk to Detective (John) Pruitt about the situation and was subsequently arrested there.”
Francisco was charged with felony cock and animal fighting and misdemeanor cruelty to animals. He was released Sunday evening on $10,000 bond with arraignment set for Monday in Hawkins County Sessions court.