ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A French bulldog named Bugsy, stolen at gunpoint from his owner in March, sparked an investigation that led to a dog theft ring getting busted, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff John Mina and detectives held a news conference Friday detailing the case.
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Johnny Matos said he was walking Bugsy through The Enclave subdivision in Orlando when he spotted a vehicle following him. A man then threatened him, demanded the dog and took off, deputies said.
Mina said the investigation into Bugsy’s theft lead detectives down a “dark and disturbing road of animal cruelty and puppy trafficking.”
“Their investigation uncovered burglaries of pet stores and an underground puppy chop shop where the criminals would remove the microchip used for identification — and they’d actually cut it out of the animals — and, of course, these pets were kept in extremely deplorable conditions,” he added.
Detective Mike Peers said investigators were given tips that Bugsy was seen with a man identified as Ronnie Baker, who was also suspected of breaking into a pet store in Manatee County, where six puppies were stolen.
When detectives started investigating the robbery of a #frenchbulldog named Bugsy – ripped away from his owner at gunpoint off Hiawassee Road in March – they had no idea it would lead them into a dark, disturbing world of dog trafficking and puppy “Chop Shops”#AnimalCruelty pic.twitter.com/ShNq9EduJs— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) November 5, 2021
Further investigation, according to Peers, showed that Baker was also suspected in another pet store burglary in Largo, along with a member of his family, Quantavious Williams.
Deputies said they received a tip that Baker would take dogs to a home in Orange County where a man named Bobby Rivera would then remove the identifying microchips from the stolen animals and replace them.
“On May 13, Ronnie was arrested for charges unrelated to these cases,” Peers said. “However, during his arrest, he was in possession of an English bulldog puppy with fresh wounds on her back. It was later confirmed that this English bulldog puppy was one of the ones that (was) stolen from Largo, Florida.”
Peers said the wound on the dog became infected after it was “improperly sewn back up.” Rivera was arrested in August on a charge of aggravated animal cruelty for the injury to the bulldog puppy.
“A search of Dog Man’s property, Bobby Rivera’s property, found medical instruments, sutures, anesthesia, bloody rags, and a bloody desk that had been turned into an operating table which was evidence that he had been conducting surgical procedures on dogs,” Peers said.
Deputies said he could face additional charges as the investigation continues.
“A total of nine dogs, one of which was found to be dead, was located on his property with no access to water, food or the ability to use the bathroom,” Peers said.
None of the dogs were Bugsy. However, a tip led them to the French bulldog on Sept. 21, Peers said, and detectives were able to link Baker and Williams to the dog’s theft.
“We have since filed charges to the state attorney’s office on these individuals for robbery with a firearm, grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On both suspects,” Peers said. “The two have also been charged in the burglaries to Manatee County and Largo, Florida.”
Matos also spoke at the news conference Friday, thanking the detectives who reunited him with Bugsy.
“It looks like everything was meant to be because we got a bunch of other dogs home and (I) just want to thank Detective Peers — my Captain America,” he said. “(Bugsy) is home and it’s great to have him home.”