The 13 pit bulls seized from a Rock Hill house last month can't remain under the care of York County Animal Control. But authorities say the dogs' owner, who's supposed to be preparing a home for them, can't do so because he's in a New Jersey jail.
Richard Leach, 42, was arrested in York County last week on charges of receiving stolen goods. On Sunday, he was taken from the county jail to New Jersey, where he was wanted on an unrelated charge. The nature of that charge wasn't available Wednesday.
Local investigators say Leach was housing stolen air conditioners for his uncle. His arrest adds another bizarre twist to a story that has fueled a movement by local animal rights groups to convince county leaders to outlaw chaining dogs.
But, police say, the original case had nothing to do with pit bulls.
On July 25, officers searching for stolen air conditioners went to Leach's home on Northway Drive.
There, they found a dozen dogs that lacked adequate shelter and were restrained by logging chains, police said. Some of the animals didn't have access to water, and none of the dogs had received rabies shots.
A veterinarian later found that most of the dogs had scarring and other injuries consistent with dogfighting, according to a York County Sheriff's Office report.
But investigators were unable to determine if the dogs had been involved in arranged fights. And less than a week after the animals were seized, a judge said Leach could get his dogs back on several conditions, including that he:
• Builds a doghouse for each animal and place it in a pen;
• Keeps the dogs chained until he finishes building individual kennels;
• Spays or neuters all the animals and gives them rabies shots; and
• Agrees to allow officers to enter his home unannounced any time for a year to check on the dogs. If animals are found in poor conditions, they'll be seized immediately.
"I'd just like to get my dogs back," Leach said during the hearing, adding that he wanted "to prove that I do love my dogs."
Leach said then that he expected to have his home ready for the dogs in about a week.
That never happened.
His uncle, Gary Leach of Rock Hill, was arrested earlier this month. Police say Gary Leach stole air conditioning units from area homes that were under construction, a trend they had noticed in recent months.
Richard Leach was arrested Aug. 19, police said, because he had some of those units in his house. When Richard Leach was charged, local authorities learned of an outstanding New Jersey arrest warrant for him.
York County Sheriff's Office attorney Kris Jordan said local officials didn't think New Jersey authorities would extradite Leach.
When they did, she said, it became a problem because animal control can't hold Leach's dogs while his case goes through the court system.
But authorities can't do anything with the dogs because they belong to Leach.
"He has to be given notice and the opportunity to appear (in court), and obviously he can't do that since he's locked up," Jordan said. "But we also can't continue to hold these animals, either."
In the next two weeks, Jordan hopes a judge will be able to hold a video conference hearing on the matter.
Authorities want Leach to either sign the dogs over to a local relative or to the county.
Leach's case ignited an outcry from several animal rights groups. The organizations say chaining dogs makes them more aggressive and can lead to severe neglect.
At last week's York County Council meeting, those groups asked the council to make chaining dogs illegal. Several representatives from organizations that support tethering also made their case to county leaders.