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Evidence of dogfighting found as Cabela's owners are arrested

Cabela, a 2-year-old mixed breed, had been shot, strapped tightly to railroad tracks in Tampa and left for dead. Police said she was purchased for dog fighting but wasn’t good at it, so she was shot.
Published Mar. 13, 2015

TAMPA — Cabela the dog just wasn't mean enough.

Bought for what appears to have been low-level neighborhood dogfighting, the female pit bull mix wasn't very good at it. So, investigators say, she was shot, strapped down to railroad tracks and left for dead last week.

Despite all that, Cabela survived — taking a tentative post-surgery walk Thursday before TV cameras even as her owners were held without bail at the Hillsborough County jail.

Darnell N. Devlin, 18, and Kenny Bell, 21, were arrested Wednesday at their home at 8516 N 16th St. and charged with possession of fighting dogs.

Police said the two admitted owning 2-year-old Cabela and two other fighting dogs detectives found in the home. Devlin acknowledged he owned a male pit bull named Slick, according to arrest records. Cpl. Kenneth Vetzel, an abuse investigator with Hillsborough County Animal Services, found bite marks on Slick's face and leg consistent with fighting, records show.

Bell admitted to owning the other male pit bull, and Vetzel found bite marks on that dog's face, neck and legs, according to an arrest affidavit. Investigators also found evidence of dogfighting in the back yard.

Both male dogs were taken in by Animal Services.

Two 17-year-olds — Natwan Callaway and Bobby Hollinger, who police say was the shooter — have been charged with animal cruelty.

The dogfighting that Cabela was involved in appears to be low-level and unsophisticated, said Scott Trebatoski, director of the county's Pet Resource Center. Organized dogfighting rings operate in most large metropolitan areas, he said, but in Tampa Bay, it's far more common to see a couple of people making small bets, or none at all, on whose dog is tougher. It happens on street corners or in wooded areas, and sometimes in back yards.

"A lot of times it's just a macho thing," Trebatoski said. Catching people in the act is a challenge, he said, because fights are often sporadic and not centered in any one location.

Tampa police rescued the injured Cabela from the train tracks March 4. Though veterinarians thought she would lose a leg, surgery at Tampa Bay Veterinary Emergency to put a rod in her leg was successful. Her story struck a chord with people across Tampa Bay and beyond.

Rescue coordinator Steven Pahl at the veterinary office said they have received calls "from all 50 states" and several other countries. Once she's off medication and her behavior is observed, the office will start the adoption process with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay's help.

"We're fairly certain we're not going to let her go out of the area," Pahl said.

Police said they were tipped off to surveillance video that showed four people walking Cabela to the tracks after she was wounded.

Authorities say the two teenagers charged in the case confessed.

Except for Hollinger, 17, the men have lengthy arrest records. Bell was charged with attempted murder last year, but the case was dropped. A spokesman for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said the victim later said he wasn't sure it was Bell who shot him, and other witnesses were uncooperative. Bell has also faced charges of robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of marijuana.

Callaway, the other 17-year-old, has charges dating back to 2012, including burglary, robbery, grand theft and felon in possession of a firearm, according to state records. Devlin's past charges include possession of marijuana, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at or within a building, records show.

The county's Trebatoski said that of the 20,000 animals it admits each year, fewer than a dozen come from professional dogfighting operations. He said it's much easier to adopt out dogs that have been involved in low-level fighting because they haven't been pumped full of steroids or professionally trained to be aggressive.

Times staff writer Rachel Crosby contributed to this report. Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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