Otis_CJ_Ace

From left: Otis, CJ and Ace were among the 43 dogs seized by the county from Out of the Box rescue in January. The three dogs were euthanized after they attacked two shelter volunteers and an employee.

They never saw it coming.

On three separate days, dogs confiscated by the county from Out of the Box rescue attacked two volunteers and a worker at the Citrus County Animal Shelter, according to county records.

The attacking dogs were later euthanized after a judge agreed to the county’s request to award it custody of 43 dogs, a pig and three chickens seized in January from Out of the Box, a Floral City rescue run by Robert Schweickert Jr. Schweickert’s attorney is appealing the ruling.

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Robert Schweickert

Robert Schweickert Jr.

Schweickert is facing 27 criminal counts of cruelty to animals.

The county would release neither names of those who were attacked, nor their injuries, citing privacy laws. Incident reports have those details blotted out.

But the reports show that in all three cases, the dogs — Ace, CJ and Otis — attacked without provocation from either other dogs or humans.

Animal Services Director Colleen Yarbrough declined to discuss the specific attacks, but said nothing could be done to prevent them.

She said employees and volunteers receive extensive training in learning to read a dog’s behavioral patterns and ways to de-escalate aggression.

But they also want to learn the dog’s personality, and that takes time under normal conditions.

“It has been a slow process to figure everyone out,” Yarbrough said of the Out of the Box dogs.

Yarbrough said she is also cautious about dogs that come from Out of the Box, which is known for rescuing dogs deemed for euthanasia due to aggressive or biting behavior.

“Knowing the reputation, that plays into it,” she said.

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When Citrus County sheriff’s deputies and animal control officers arrested Schweickert on Jan. 13, the county filed a separate civil case asking a judge to award it legal custody of the Out of the Box dogs, pig and chickens.

Schweickert’s attorney, Luke Lirot, suggested instead that the animals be transferred to facilities or adopted out, according to emails between Lirot and the Citrus County attorney’s office.

A judge in February sided with the county and awarded it legal possession of the animals. Lirot is appealing the decision.

One dog was euthanized for medical reasons, leaving 42 dogs for shelter staff and volunteers to care for.

The first attack occurred March 24 when “CJ,” a 55-pound hound mix, attacked a shelter volunteer in an outdoor play area.

Reports state a shelter worker was working with the volunteer.

Colleen Yarbrough with rattle paddle

Citrus County Animal Services Director Colleen Yarbrough explains how a "rattle paddle" is used by employees as a behavioral tool when interacting with dogs.

“They both then went into the yard with a ‘rattle paddle’, which is used to dissuade animals for attack and is a common tool used by staff,” the report reads. “The dog was running in the yard with no issue and without provocation, attacked the victim.”

The next day, it happened again. This time “Ace”, a mixed breed from Out of the Box, attacked a shelter volunteer without provocation as the volunteer was approaching an area where an employee was standing with a leashed Ace, reports state.

The third attack was April 3 when “Otis,” a 79-pound mixed breed seized from Out of the Box, charged an employee in the play yard who was trying to separate two other dogs.

Citrus County officials euthanized all three dogs.

The fate of the other dogs is unknown as Schweickert appeals the judge’s ruling that gave Citrus County possession of the Out of the Box animals. And, Schweickert’s criminal case progresses; his next hearing is June 24.

Yarbrough said she didn’t know how many of the remaining Out of the Box dogs will be available for adoption once the court cases run their course.

“Our focus right now,” she said, “is taking care of these dogs.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.