Johnston County News

Johnston County man moved, left 4 dogs in cages to die, police say

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) - Clayton Police said Tuesday a man was arrested on animal cruelty charges after he moved from a home in downtown Clayton and left four dogs locked in metal cages to die.

The dogs had been there for at least four weeks, and possibly up to two months, Clayton Police Chief Blair Myhand said.

Willis Wayne Hodges, 53, of Smithfield, is charged with four felony counts of animal cruelty. He was arrested on Johnson Court in Smithfield Tuesday morning with no incident, the release said. 

Dylan Zelenka has lived next to the home at 229 E Stallings Street for two years. He said he started to notice an odor coming from the house last week, initially thinking it was wood rot.

“You can see it’s rotting away at the seams,” Zelenka said.

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By the end of the week, the smell was so unbearable he called police.

“I said, 'It smells like death over there and you need to come somebody over here,’” Zelenka said.

Officers went inside to find three small dogs and a larger dog locked their crates without access to food or water. Myhand said three dogs were dead, but a fourth dog lifted its head as the officers entered.

“One of the dogs was barely alive at the time. The house was filthy. There were bugs and maggots. It was a pretty foul. It was a disgusting scene,” Myhand said.

Myhand said the fourth dog was rushed to a local animal hospital, but doctors were forced to euthanize the dog.

Two of the dogs that were already dead were taken to the N.C. Veterinary Center for necropsies, Myhand said. The third that had already died was too decomposed to even tell what type of dog it was.

“Police officers have seen a lot of stuff, and that probably ranks up there with the top,” Myhand said.

Police said the home belonged to Hodges’ mother, who recently passed away. Hodges moved into the home with a woman, her adult son, and their four dogs.

They all recently moved to Smithfield, police said.

“I knew they had multiple animals. They had a revolving door of animals that lived there. There [were] pitbulls, tiny dogs, bigs dogs. It was a lot, and a lot more than what they found,” Zelenka said.

Hodges is being detained in the Johnston County Detention Center. He was given a $100,000 bond.

“There’s never any excuse for any animal owner to leave their pets or abandon their pets in such a manner. There are tons of resources,” Myhand said.

The owners of 229 East Stallings Street have been hearing from the Town of Clayton for nearly four years.

"We had reports from neighbors of debris and trash in the yard, and so we began the process of working through our code to try and get it cleaned up," Stacy Beard, the town's public information officer, said.

Over the years, the town said they sent a number of letters to Hodges. The most recent letter was sent in mid-April.

Sometimes Hodges would clean up, and according to officials, sometimes the town would have to send a crew to the home to take care of the issues.

Beard tells CBS 17, "that process also means delays. It's frustrating, but you have to work within those bounds."

Investigators said utilities at the home where Hodge, a woman and her adult son were living, were cut off in February, but it was just recently that they moved out.

Now that the house is condemned, Beard tells CBS 17 that the owners have 60 days to bring it up to code. If they don’t, the town will tear it down.

"We're going to learn from this," Beard said.

The town is adding money to next year's budget to avoid a similar vicious cycle.

"Looking at the levels that we might reach where there's more intervention. Can we put liens on the home? We can't let this happen again," Beard said.

Hodges is charged with four counts of animal cruelty. The District Attorney is working with investigators about filing possible charges against the woman and her adult son.

Myhand says he expects more charges will be filed.

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