TAMPA — Hundreds of roosters could be heard crowing from the street outside the house.
After months of investigating, deputies saw Wednesday what lay beyond the fence: hundreds of roosters, several dogs, a horse. Feces and filth covered the ground and trash littered the yard.
Deputies arrested Clemente Hernandez, 77, on charges of animal cruelty after they say they discovered hundreds of birds, bred to fight to the death, at a house south of the Westfield Citrus Park shopping mall.
The animals were removed just before 10 a.m. from the home, 8023 S Meadowview Circle, and were taken into custody by Hillsborough County Animal Services, officials said.
Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services, said the squalor in which the animals were living was "horrific."
"Piles of feathers, spiderwebs filled with feathers — it was a maze, and there were just cages and cages and cages," she said. "There was no humane care being given to the animals. It was hard to watch and hard to walk through."
The property, which consists of two mobile homes, an expansive back yard and a gazebo authorities suspect was used for cockfighting preparations, was also found in violation of several codes.
One of the trailers was condemned and the other was being considered for condemnation, said Hillsborough County Code Enforcement Director Dexter Barge.
Hernandez and at least three others, including a teenager, lived on the property, Barge said.
"Conditions like these create a huge health concern," Ryan said. "It was a bad environment on every level."
Hernandez faces scores of charges of animal cruelty, breeding and training animals for fighting, owning or possessing equipment used in animal fighting and managing property used for animal fighting.
He was being held Wednesday on $522,000 bail at the Hillsborough County Jail.
The roosters are "not nice to be around, they're not companions, they cannot be used as food sources — there's no positive outcome for the community," Ryan said. The birds will be euthanized, she said, in line with Animal Services protocol.
The horse and dogs, which include several Jack Russell terrier puppies, a German shepherd and a Doberman, will likely be put up for adoption.
Ryan said an anonymous neighbor had reported the cockfighting operation to Animal Services. Such game fighting rings exist all over the county, she said.
"It's a moneymaking operation from start to finish," she said. "It's money won on the backs of defenseless animals."
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that Hernandez has never before been arrested in the state on animal cruelty charges. He was arrested in 1977 on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but the records do not show the disposition of that case.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.