LAWRENCEVILLE - Two Norcross men pleaded not guilty Thursday to 36 counts of animal neglect and fought to maintain ownership of their pit bulls.
Animal Control Officer Joey Brooks said the citations were issued to Raymond Barry Washington, 25, and John Holmes, 21, because they were in violation of a county ordinance requiring adequate shelter, food and water for the dogs.
At the hearing, prosecutors asked for the 36 pit bulls to be handed over to the county because the dogs were overcrowding the Gwinnett County Animal Control facilities.
"We just don't have enough room to house them and the dogs we already have," Joey Brooks said.
The prosecution said if animal control was given control of the dogs, those that did not have a suitable temperament for adoption would be euthanized.
Prosecutors told the court that the dogs had a "fighting temperament" and that one of the dogs killed another earlier in the day.
Brian Whiteside, attorney for Holmes, countered that the dogs were domesticated and were not fighting dogs.
Whiteside said he believed it was not unusual for any dog to fight when placed in an overcrowded situation.
Brooks said animal control was looking for the court to do something with the dogs, but attorneys for the defendants believed it would be a violation of due process to take the dogs from the defendants without a trial.
The defense attorneys said they were unprepared to proceed with the custody matter, but their clients were willing to pay the cost of caring for the dogs at animal control while waiting for the matter to be resolved.
Judge Patricia Muise ordered the defendants to reimburse animal control and set a trial date for Aug. 2.
The pit bulls were taken July 12 after Gwinnett County Animal Control officers arrived at the defendants' home to find several dogs severely neglected, according to police reports.
Whiteside said his client bred the pit bulls for sale and that the dogs were taken care of.
The dogs were taken to the vet once a month and were registered with the American Kennel Club, Whiteside said.
"This is not a case about pit bulls," Whiteside said. "This is a case about my client's right to make a living."
Animal control officers also found several shallow graves in the backyard of the residence, one which contained the remains of a deceased pit bull puppy.
Whiteside said the deceased dog had a disease and was taken to the veterinarian to be examined.
When the puppy died, Whiteside said his clients inquired with their veterinarian about what they should do with the dog.
Whiteside said the vet presented the owners with two options: bring the dog in to have the vet take care of it or bury it.
"They did the traditional thing and buried it in the backyard," Whiteside said.
Washington is being held on a possession of marijuana charge with bond set at $16,600. Holmes is being held on two possession of marijuana charges with bond set at $18,020.
The two were arrested on the drug charges after police observed what appeared to be marijuana when responding to a request for help from the animal control officer on the scene, according to police reports.
Tyrone Laval Drayton, 19, was also arrested on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and giving false name or information, but he did not appear in court for the charges of animal neglect.