Tennessee Bureau of Investigation detectives announced Tuesday four men are charged after being indicted by a Cheatham County grand jury on multiple counts of animal cruelty stemming from an apparent dog fighting operation discovered in Ashland City in November.
James Callis, 31, and Gary Phelps, 50, both of Ashland City, and Arsenio Williams, 29, of Nashville, were each charged with 60 counts of animal fighting, one count of cruelty to animals and one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Avery Bell, 54, of Ashland City was charged with 60 counts of animal fighting, one count of aggravated cruelty to animals, one count of cruelty to animals, setting fire to personal property and burning without a permit. Bell and Phelps are cousins, and all four subjects are friends, according to investigators.
The Animal Rescue Corps, an animal protection organization, removed 65 dogs Thanksgiving night from the suspected dog fighting operation. Lebanon's New Leash on Life shelter was instrumental in housing the abused dogs after they were freed by ARC.
"That's fantastic," said NLOL Director Amy Haverstick of the arrests. "I knew it was going to the grand jury. We've been holding our breath hoping the right thing would be done. This is good news."
The dogs were found on Buckeye Road in Ashland City, about 35 minutes west of Nashville, during an ARC rescue mission called Operation Broken Chain.
The dogs all required medical attention after they were discovered chained in the woods without food or water by the Ashland City and Pleasant View fire departments.
Haverstick was on the scene during the rescues, and she spent most of the Thanksgiving weekend working to make sure the dogs had an appropriate place to recover. With the help of volunteers, 60 of the dogs ended up at the Cumberland Valley Shows warehouse in Lebanon, where they were cleaned up and received care from volunteer vets.
The saga began Nov. 22, when the Cheatham County Fire Department responded to a brush fire at Bell’s home on Buckeye Road, where they discovered numerous dogs chained in the woods. Cheatham County Animal Control removed about 60 dogs in various stages of health that also showed signs of fighting. A search warrant was executed shortly after the dogs were removed from the property, and dog fighting paraphernalia was found on the property, including a treadmill, a spring pole and weighted sled.
The case was brought before a Cheatham County grand jury, which chose to indict the men in question. All four individuals were booked into the Cheatham County Jail on $50,000 bond each.
Haverstick said there are still 15 dogs awaiting placement, and they were sent to Cheatham County Animal Control when the Lebanon emergency center was closed before Christmas. She had high praise for the way Wilson County responded to the crisis.
"The community was amazing," Haverstick said, noting that individual volunteers like Paula Hutto, Denise Moore, Angela Chapman and Pam Black went all out to help.
"I was very proud of my community," she said.