Investigation underway after dead dog disappears, others found tethered

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MARLIN, Texas (KWTX) A deceased dog has disappeared in Falls County, triggering a larger animal cruelty investigation and subsequent search for the dog’s body and its owner.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

A woman reportedly found the male puppy she thought was sleeping hanging from a leash tied to a tree on a rural property in South Marlin.

“I was like ‘come here buddy’ and tried getting it to wake up and come, it didn’t move, it was dead,” said Breanne Justice, Founder of Justice 4 Mutts animal rescue.

Justice, who runs the foster-based rescue group out of Bell County, says she came across the dog by accident but also by fate; she got lost on her way to her new job Wednesday morning, and remembered the area from previous dog fighting and dog dumping investigations her group’s been involved in.

She drove down County Road 2873 and saw several dogs tied up, but only two of the three she discovered were alive.

“I was just a day too late,” said Justice.

Besides the one tethered to the tree, yards away Justice found a second dog tied to a metal fence, and farther away a third was tied to the ramp of a trailer home with no one inside, all were without food and water, she said.

On a mission to find those responsible, Justice started questioning neighbors in the area, but she says when she returned minutes later, the deceased dog’s body was gone.

“No one knows anything, they have ‘no idea,’ it ‘wasn’t them,’ they ‘don’t know the dogs,’ they ‘didn’t even know they were there,’” Justice said rolling her eyes. “The public needs to stop turning their heads as if this is not going on because they don’t want to get involved.”

A KWTX reporter at the scene confirmed there was no visible food or water or standard shelter for all three animals, in addition, bite marks were found on the deceased dog's leash which was still tied to the tree, inches away from a red dog collar found open in the dirt.

"The dogs were in very poor condition," said Falls County Sheriff Ricky Scaman.

Justice called Scaman's office to file a report.

“We're here to respond to the people, we're here to speak for the animals, if someone calls-in anything to do with an animal, we're going to respond to it,” said Scaman.

However, Scaman wanted to remind people about the limitations of his agency, saying in a Facebook post he has eight deputies to patrol approximately 774 square miles with 17,000 people to protect, 24/7.

Investigating deputies couldn’t immediately pin down the owner of the property through a records search because plots in that area have typically been handed down through several generations with multiple inheritors, according to Scaman.

However, by going an alternate route, through interviews, deputies eventually identified and made contact with the owner of the three-legged dog tied to the ramp of the house, and after interviewing the elderly woman, said she provided proof of veterinary records about the dog's food and water needs which he was satisfied with.

"It had shelter - by letter of the law, which is all I can uphold," Scaman said Monday.

They notified the owner she couldn't have her dog tied-up between the hours of 10pm and 6am, and that she had to be brought inside during freezing temperatures, which she did on Monday evening as the temperatures dropped and the outdoor shelter was no longer adequate, they said.

Scaman said they'd been fielding calls of concern from all over the U.S. about the dog's well-being.

As long as she complies, Scaman said no charges would be filed and the dog would not be seized and given to Justice, whose rescue already took-in the second dog in “much worse shape” who was tethered to the metal fence in a field.

Justice, who aptly named the dog “Chance” for his second chance at life, was taken to a veterinarian who determined he had a treatable parasite, and as long as he kept gaining weight and strength back, he could be adopted in the near future.

“There will be no change if you don’t get involved and if you don’t speak for these animals because they have no voice,” said Justice.

If found, the owner of Chance and the deceased dog could face multiple counts of animal cruelty “depending on how far they stretch the investigation” Scaman said.

"Unfortunately no one will claim ownership of either animal," Scaman said Monday.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Falls County Crime Stoppers at (254) 883-0353 - tips can be anonymous.