BROOKSVILLE — Staffers at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast are used to looking around the facility when they arrive in the morning for animals dropped over the fence at night.
Now, they are becoming too accustomed to finding animals gone.
For the second time in recent weeks, volunteers arrived Thursday morning to find dogs missing. This time, it was two small-breed dogs and three puppies that had vanished overnight, the thieves leaving behind the leashes they had used to bring the dogs to an opening in the fence.
For Humane Society director Joanne Schoch, it was a disturbing scenario. On July 16, a pit bull mix named Shayna was discovered missing from its kennel by workers at the shelter.
"In the 46 years the shelter has been open, we've never had an animal stolen," Schoch said. "Two break-ins in a month — that's terrifying to me."
The dogs stolen sometime after the shelter closed at 6 p.m. Wednesday include three pit bull/lab mix puppies, two black in color and the other tan in color, plus two senior mixed breed dogs, one red and one white and red, weighing between 15 and 20 pounds.
Schoch said kennels at the shelter are routinely kept unlocked so that the animals can be freed quickly in case of an emergency. However, a 6-foot tall perimeter fence surrounding the facility on Wiscon and Mobley roads is padlocked after hours.
Hernando County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Donna Black said nothing else was reported stolen. The burglary remains under investigation.
Schoch said she fears that the animals may have been taken by someone connected with illegal dogfighting to be used as "bait" for training purposes.
"They were selective," Schoch said. "They only wanted small dogs. The bigger ones they left behind."
Black however, said that such a notion would only be speculation until the investigation is completed.
Animal Control supervisor Patrick Pace said his agency has not investigated any incidences of animals being stolen for the purposes of dogfight training. Nor is he aware of a recent upswing in pet thefts.
"Maybe we've been lucky here," Pace said.
The Hernando County Crime Stoppers, Inc. is offering up to $1,000 as reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the burglary.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]