Officials are investigating who allegedly broke the lock on the outside pen at the Clay County Humane Society, releasing 20 dogs.
"We arrived Tuesday morning to find the lock had been pried off the exterior fence surrounding 20 kennels placed around the outside of the building," Clay County Humane Society Shelter Director Mike Sorrels told The Brazil Times. "All the pens were open and the dogs were gone. Thankfully, we have located four of the dogs, but the others are still out there."
While shelter employees were looking for the missing dogs, Sorrels confirmed a neutered male cat, who lived at the shelter, was found dead under a nearby trailer. It is unclear if the two incidents are connected at this time.
According to Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton, the incident took place sometime between 10 p.m., Monday, and when shelter employees arrived Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
"This is a criminal mischief investigation right now," Heaton said. "There's no evidence at this time that anyone got inside the facility. It is also unclear what any other motives are possible in this case, but we will follow the evidence wherever it goes."
During the preliminary investigation, deputies determined someone attempted to cut the lock several times before finally prying it off the fence.
"Installing a security camera system outside, like the one inside, has always been in our long-range plans," Sorrels said. "Hopefully, we can raise enough funds to do that now."
Sorrels said the shelter's website will have detailed information -- including pictures -- about all the missing animals posted today. The website is http://clayhumane.com.
"This has been a terrible incident," Sorrels said. "Some animals have been here a long time, and only know our employees, and this place as their home."
Being in unfamiliar surroundings, some of the dogs might be aggressive around strangers, which is why Sorrels urged people to use caution and report to authorities if they encounter one of the dogs instead of trying to catch them.
"Now, the objective is to get the animals back to the shelter," Sorrels said. "Hopefully, we can get the dogs back safely."
To contact the Clay County Humane Shelter, call 446-5126.