ATLANTA — A horrific case of what appears to be animal cruelty in Spalding County has neighbors questioning if a dog fighting ring was being run out of their street.

11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross spoke to neighbors who say they were shocked to see what was on the other side of the fence. They said they heard the abuse before they saw it.

A wooden fence separates the yards on Lang Street and Melton Street and when they heard the dogs, they knew something wasn't right. But they say nothing could have prepared them for what they saw.

"It's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting," said Amber Markisello. Her friend called her when she heard the dogs in her neighbor's backyard. She sent her a picture of what she saw when she peaked over the fence.

"When she sent me the picture, I was absolutely horrified," she said. 

She posted the pictures on Facebook, where they were shared thousands of times. 11Alive is not re-posting them because of their graphic nature. 

"Lots of anger. Just a complete outrage of how people can do this to dogs. They're living beings," Markisello said. 

READ: Tip about alleged animal cruelty leads to drug bust in Cobb County

According to a March 16 police report from the Griffin Police Department, officers found a puppy that was severely malnourished and another dog so severely injured that police said its muzzle was missing, leaving its teeth and gums exposed. 

Griffin Police Chief Michael Yates said he understands the outrage.

"We are dog lovers around here," he said. "I have two rescues myself. It pulls at your heart strings."

RELATED: Zero Tolerance for Animal Abuse in Atlanta

His officers arrested owner Courtney Thomas as soon as they saw the condition the five dogs in the yard were living in. While most of the dogs appeared to have food and water, one of the dogs had to be euthanized immediately.

"After a report from the vets, we were able to upgrade the charges from simple animal cruelty to felony cruelty," he said. 

Courtney Thomas
Spalding County Sheriff's Office

While the two felony cruelty charges are serious, neighbors suspect Thomas was part of a dog fighting ring. While the chief said it's possible some dog fighting may have gone on at the home in the past, they didn't find evidence this time to support that and bring charges.

"We've still got some investigative action to take and we may be able to come up with enough evidence to do that," he said. 

MORE: Fulton 'urban cowboy' faces another animal abuse allegation

"It's just hard. It's hard to make charges stick," said Markisello. 

She understands it won't easy, but thinks these dogs deserve justice.

"Our laws need to be changed. The community needs to get involved," she said.

The police chief says he does expect more charges in the coming days, so 11Alive will check back with to see where they are in the investigation.

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