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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -
Two men busted in what police are calling Charlotte's biggest dog fighting ring ever were in court Monday afternoon.
Melvin Smith and Lefonze Williams face charges of felony training animals with the purpose of dog fighting and baiting. Both men bonded out of jail Sunday.
Officers worked off a tip and found what's believed to be a fighting arena at a home on the 7800 block of Carelock Circle in East Charlotte Friday.
Police say they found several of the dogs tied up with chains. Many of them had scars and showed signs of dogfighting, police say. The 27 animals are being held and checked out at Animal Control in West Charlotte. WBTV is being told the dogs are considered evidence, so it is not yet known when the dogs will be able to find new homes.
On Friday, officers, while waiting for search warrants, conducted surveillance of the property with their Air Unit and secured the perimeter of the residence.
"Especially the dog fighting dogs, they have a bad rap for being vicious and aggressive and being trained to attack when in all actuality, they love people, generally," Animal Control Enforcement Supervisor Shannon Corkwell said.
Neighbors say they heard dogs barking day and night but one long time resident told WBTV he didn't think there was alleged criminal activity going on at the home.
"It's quieter, it's quieter, I know that," Howard Phifer said.
On Monday, Lafonze Williams told WBTV police have it all wrong and he wants to clear his name. Williams says he owns the dogs and his brother just rents the homes where the dogs were kept from him.
"I've never done that [dog fighting]. I know it's against the law. I'm over there everyday. I take care of my dogs. I feed them, they have water," Williams.
A search warrant lists "dog fighting paraphernalia" and police officers say they observed brake sticks to pry open dogs' jaws in fights and supplements used to enhance performance.
"The supplements are no more than, like me as a grown man, taking vitamins to keep my body and self in shape and healthy," Williams said. He says a treadmill found at the home was for his personal use.
Williams says he breeds the dogs and feels like because they're pit bulls, police jumped to conclusions. "I think any pit bull owners will fall under that bad rap because of the name of the breed and the history of things that have happened with the dogs," Williams said.
Williams hired an attorney and Smith asked for a public defender.
Both men are due back in court March 1.
The canines remain it the custody of CMPD Animal Care & Control and the Enforcement team assigned to this case is awaiting word on possible disposition of these canines.
If the canines ownership rights are forfeited or the courts relinquish the ownership rights to CMPD Animal Care & Control. At such time, Animal Care & Control will conduct behavioral assessments on the canines to determine adoptability and if rehabilitation can be achieved while preserving public safety.
Please note that while we are awaiting the word on disposition of the canines, they are being well cared for by the Animal Care & Control veterinary team and sheltering staff.
Animal Care & Control also has a full time certified trainer dog trainer on staff who is overseeing the environmental enrichment for these canines.