Chuck Sanders was heading out early Monday morning to feed his chickens when he noticed two dogs charging at a fence.
He looked over and saw one of his five goats on the ground, dead. He went to the kennel. All five were dead.
“It was like a killing field,” Sanders said.
Shaken, Sanders retrieved his shotgun and took aim.
“I could have killed them,” he said. “They were vicious dogs. I went with not killing them.”
Instead, he called the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, which sent out a deputy and animal control officers. One dog was quickly captured, Sanders said. The other had to be sedated before officers could corral it.
Though upset, Sanders believed the dogs had escaped from a neighbor’s yard.
Then he learned something that, he said, was even more unsettling.
The dogs, boxer mixes, belonged to Out of the Box Animal Rescue Inc., the Inverness rescue headed by Robert Schweickert Jr.
Unknown to Sanders, the rescue had set up shop at the former site of FDS Disposal on State Road 44, across from the Citrus County Landfill.
Sanders said the rescue is within walking distance of his 5 acres.
“Their philosophy is no animal should be euthanized, no matter what,” Sanders said of Out of the Box. “This group specializes in taking dogs the county thinks are a threat to the community.”
The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a dangerous dog investigation, agency spokeswoman Brittney Carman said Friday in an email to the Chronicle.
The dogs were taken to the Citrus County Animal Shelter — but as loose dogs, not dangerous dogs. Schweickert, the owner, has up to 10 days to claim them unless the sheriff’s office investigation concludes first that the dogs are dangerous. If that happens, the dogs will remain in the shelter until the case is decided.
Schweickert, who has run Out of the Box since 2016, had little to say about the incident. He promised to pay for the goats.
“A couple of dogs got out and got in the neighbor’s yard,” he said Friday from his newest rescue location on S.R. 44. “We need to make the guy whole.”
Asked what should happen to the dogs that killed Sanders’s goats, Schweickert said: “We should get the dogs back.”
The dogs, named Jack and Jill, are no strangers to the animal shelter.
“It’s not their first time around with us,” shelter director Colleen Yarbrough said. “They’ve been in and out of the system. They have a history of being stray, at large, nuisance animals.”
The pair — they’re always together, Yarbrough said — were first brought to the shelter by animal control in 2011 as strays. They were adopted out, and returned twice by animal control as being on the loose, both times retrieved by their owner.
Jack and Jill were returned to the shelter again in May 2018 for good. Because Jill had a bite history and Jack had aggressive tendencies, both were placed in a five-day hold that allows rescue organizations time to take ownership of dogs to avoid their euthanization.
On June 22, Yarbrough said, that’s what Schweickert did.
Out of the Box is known for rehabilitating aggressive dogs for adoption. But the rescue has also had its issues:
• The same month that Schwickert rescued Jack and Jill, another bulldog mix named Queenie was found hung by its leash inside the Inverness house that served as the Out of the Box rescue. Schweickert had rescued Queenie from the animal shelter and was devastated about the accident, the sheriff’s office said.
• In February 2018, a woman who had adopted a mixed-breed dog from Out of the Box was attacked by the dog while walking it on a leash. The dog, named Tony, attacked the woman when she stopped it from going after another dog. According to records, the woman needed hospitalized treatment for her injuries.
Animal control officials learned that Out of the Box had adopted Tony from Pasco County, acknowledging in writing that the dog had an aggressive history.
When the county decided the dog should be euthanized, a decision the woman supported, Schweickert sued, saying that Out of the Box was the rightful owner and that the woman should have returned the dog to the rescue. Although a judge ruled Schweickert had no standing, he appealed.
His attorney, Luke Lirot, is asking the judge to allow Tony’s return to Out of the Box. He says that Schweickert has made arrangements to send the dog to a “canine sanctuary”.
“Tony is a sweet dog who is deeply loved by a capable person,” Lirot wrote, according to court documents.
The case is pending. In the meantime, Tony is still at the county animal shelter; Feb. 24 will mark one year of confinement.
• In March 2018, a dog at Out of the Box bit a child, the son of a volunteer. According to records, when Animal Control officers went to confiscate the dog for a 10-day rabies quarantine, it was not at the rescue and Schweickert refused to help officers find it.
Animal Control cited Out of the Box on seven consecutive days for non-compliance with quarantine provisions and three times for interfering with an animal control officer. Schweickert pleaded no contest, was adjudicated guilty, and ordered to pay a total fine of $1,286.
According to court records, he paid $70. In August 2018, the remainder was sent to collections.
The boy underwent rabies treatment. After the dog was found, it was discovered not to have rabies, reports show.
• Twice since November, Schweickert and Out of the Box were sued by property owners to evict him. The first was from the city of Inverness, which provided the rescue a house rent-free in July 2017 with the understanding that the arrangement would end in June 2018, court records show, as the city would be demolishing the house as part of its new Depot District.
According to the city, Schweickert refused to budge.
City Manager Frank DiGiovanni sent a letter to Schweickert in June reminding him of the agreement, and noted that Schweickert was $457 in arrears on the rescue’s water bill. The letter said the house would be demolished by the end of November, records show.
On Nov. 30, DiGiovanni followed with a second letter, ordering him from the house by Dec. 3. Three days after that deadline passed, and Schweickert had not left, the city filed the eviction lawsuit.
A judge ordered Schweickert out by Jan. 24. Schweickert was gone before then; he told a reporter Friday the city did not evict him.
• Out of the Box relocated to the Floral City Center, 7362 S. Florida Ave., Floral City, which was already housing a doggie spa and pet adoption center.
The building owner, however, said he never agreed on a lease with Schweickert and sued him on Jan. 10 for eviction.
According to court records, the property owner met with Schweickert in December to discuss a lease, and allowed Schweickert access to the property to prepare it for occupancy. However, two days later, the owner sent Schweickert a text message declining to rent him the space.
On Dec. 30, the lawsuit alleges, the owner found that Schweickert had moved Out of the Box into the premises and placed a lock on the door. When the owner ordered Schweickert to leave, Schweickert said he “had no intention of staying” but had nowhere else to go. The owner said Schweickert told him he would “try to find another place.”
Schweickert’s response said the owner himself acknowledged he allowed Schweickert to prepare the property, records show.
While a judge set a hearing date for Feb. 21, Out of the Box announced on its Facebook page that it moved to the former FDS Disposal site on S.R. 44.
William Ray, who sold FDS in 2016, still owns the property where Out of the Box is now set up. Reached by phone, Ray said he knew of the dog attack on Chuck Sanders’s goats but otherwise declined to comment.
For the time being, Out of the Box is off limits to accepting dogs from the Citrus County Animal Shelter.
Yarbrough, the shelter director, said that since the incident when Schweickert refused to leave the Inverness house, the county will not provide Out of the Box dogs until it inspects the rescue’s new home.
Until the last few days, she thought that was in Floral City.
“We’ll inspect whatever the new place is,” she said. “We’ve not officially been told of his new place. I’m pretty sure we’re in a holding pattern.”
Sanders, the Lecanto resident, doesn’t believe the dogs that killed his goats should ever be adopted again. And he doesn’t trust Schweickert.
“I’m going to find out what this county is able to do about this,” he said. “I’ve talked to this guy. He just doesn’t strike me as anyone who would care about my goats.”
Schweickert acknowledged he doesn’t see Jack and Jill as being adoptable. But, like Tony the mixed breed that is the subject of a court appeal, he said the dogs should be allowed to live at a dog sanctuary. He wouldn’t say where it is.
Sanders said the dogs that killed his goats are dangerous.
“My breeder male, he was huge, weighed 250 pounds, horns fully grown,” Sanders said. “This thing was a beautiful animal. And they took him down and killed him. For those dogs to team up and take him down is a feat in itself. It was a good thing it wasn’t a child at a bus stop.”
And, of Schweickert, he added: “There is a possibility this guy can get those dogs back. That just blows my mind.”
Note: This story was changed to correct the number of goats killed from eight to 5.