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3 charged in Ill. dogfighting ring at day care

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CHICAGO RIDGE, Ill. — A home day care was the site of a dogfighting ring, authorities said Wednesday, and investigators who raided the house found a blood-spattered garage floor and battered and malnourished dogs not far from where the children played.

Three men were charged Wednesday, including the day care operator's husband, and authorities were seeking two others. Authorities had initially said four people had been arrested.

Nine battered dogs – four of which were puppies – were rescued, police said.

"The dogs were in horrific condition," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at the Animal Welfare League in suburban Chicago Ridge, where several of the dogs were undergoing surgery and rehabilitation. "This is as bad as we've seen."

He described a gruesome scene in the day care's garage, with blood all over the floor and a car. Police also found items such as syringes, bite sticks and a treadmill that had been altered to be used specifically to train the dogs. Officers also recovered a 1996 edition of "Sporting Dog Journal."

All three charged were from Maywood: Charles Sutton, 42, the husband of the day care operator, and Lance Webb, 27, were charged with felony dogfighting. Martez Anderson, 38, was charged with being a felon in possession of an unspayed or unneutered dog. Phone listings could not be located for the men and it was not immediately unclear if they had attorneys.

Day care officials could not immediately be reached. No one answered a knock at the door of the home, a cream stucco building with a neatly trimmed yard and potted plants.

Dart said approximately 10 children were found in the day care during the raid Tuesday, but they were not in the immediate vicinity of the dogs. Neighbors and authorities say the day care was operated out of the basement of the house and a fenced-in play area was in the backyard.

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services spokesman Kendall Marlowe said the Maywood day care was shut down Wednesday and was under investigation. He said it had been licensed since March 2004 and for a capacity of seven children.

He said two complaints were received – in 2006 and 2007 – about dogs at the home. But after DCFS officials made unannounced visits, dogs were only found locked in the garage and not near children.

Marlowe said the day care operator agreed to a plan to keep dogs from the day care areas of the home.

"This day care home is now closed, and we will monitor the home going forward to ensure that it does not reopen," Marlowe said in a statement Wednesday.

Dart said the operator told police that she was not involved in dog fighting and that children were never near the dogs or dog fighting equipment.

Anetta Smith, who lives near the day care, said her daughters – ages 3 and 5 – had been going there since they were six weeks old. The Maywood resident said she has been happy with the level of care they received.

"She has a nice business," Smith said of the operator. "She's a very good day care provider."

Smith, a 23-year-old college student, said Sutton owned a dog, which he walked around the neighborhood. But she had "never seen anything out of the ordinary."

Neighbor Glenn Durias said he also saw Sutton walk the dogs and give them commands, but never saw them act violently or be close to children.

"I've never seen the children and the dogs interact with one another," he said.

Officers had raided the Maywood day care and two other nearby homes on Tuesday to rescue the dogs. On Wednesday, Dart cradled one cream-colored 8-week-old puppy that was missing an eye and had scratches on its face.

"The dogs had been thrown into fights," he said.

Linda Estrada, president of the Animal Welfare League, said the dogs were being evaluated.

"We're going to fatten them up, give them love and care," she said. "Then they will go up for adoption."