Owner of pit bull rescue charged with animal cruelty

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Photo via Port St. Lucie Police Department.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (CBS12) Authorities arrested a woman who they say owned a pit bull rescue facility in Port St. Lucie where five abandoned dogs were found.

Port St. Lucie police say 29-year-old Christina Hand, the former owner of “Loving Hands Pit Bull Rescue,” is faces five counts of animal cruelty.

Officers say a neighbor went to check on her property on Northwest Ever Road because it looked abandoned. He saw several dogs in very poor condition and could smell urine and feces coming from inside the home.

Police and Animal Control responded to the home on Sunday. Due to the conditions and the odor of propane gas, St. Lucie County Fire Rescue also responded.

Officers tried to gain access to the home through the garage. As they lifted the door, two pit bulls ran through boxes and garbage to get to the officers.

Three more dogs were found inside the home, one escaped through an open window, while another was found in locked bedroom and another in a bathroom.

According to the arrest report, the pit bulls were extremely emaciated and covered in sores and bugs.

While looking through the house, police found evidence the dogs had spent time chewing through walls in an attempt to escape. Filth and bugs were found in every part of the home.

All five dogs were taken to the St. Lucie County Humane Society for treatment and found chips inside the dogs registered to the owners of a pet boarding facility called “Animal Kingdom.”

Police say Animal Control conducted several welfare checks on Hand’s rescue center since 2015, but no negative findings were ever discovered.

Officers say the couple who own the boarding facility next to Hand’s rescue center, along SW Biltmore Street, claim Hand and her girlfriend were friends with an Animal Control Officer who they believe was tipping them off about the welfare checks.

Police spoke to the officer, who denied all of the accusations, saying she lost contact with the couple earlier this year.

Police also learned that Hand had pulled a pit bull with the Animal Kingdom owners from a Miami Dade shelter. According to the owners, the dog was diagnosed with a cancerous growth, to which Hand told the owner caused the animal’s death.

Police say Hand lied about the dog’s death after they found the animal among the pit bulls inside the home.

An appraisal revealed that Hand has owned the home since April 2013. Authorities also learned that her pit bull rescue center also had a second location in Fort Pierce. Animal Control found nothing out of the ordinary at that location.

Authorities were able to track down Hand and her girlfriend to a home along SE Abcor Road in Port St. Lucie, a home owned by her maternal grandmother who died in August. City utilities say water usage and other bills were being paid under Hand’s grandmother’s name.

When officers arrived at the home, they could hear several dogs barking inside the residence. There were also dogs in the backyard.

Police could see a car in the home’s driveway, but no one would answer the door.

Officers made contact with Hand’s father. He told police his daughter had just called him saying officers were at her house and that she was eventually going to be arrested.

After speaking with Hand and other witnesses, police arrested her and charged her with animal cruelty. Her bond is set at $25,000.

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