BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- This is a place where the dogs run free.
But in poverty-stricken Belle Glade, past the miles and miles of towering sugar cane, there's an ugly reality that comes with that freedom: those dogs often end up sick and hungry on the streets, sleeping under the cracked foundations of abandoned buildings.
On Wednesday night, Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputies and Animal Care & Control workers carried out a "Dog Round Up" operation, looking for stray dogs in need of help.
The group turned on their flashlights and stepped into the gathering darkness. They listened for barks, scanned allies for four-legged critters.
Just after 8 p.m., the group met at an abandoned apartment building at the corner of Southwest Sixth Street and Southwest Avenue B. Here, you can hear voices in every direction, residents conversing in large groups in the streets.
To the deputies, it's a hot spot of dog activity.
"I'd have to say there's at least 20 dogs in this building," says deputy John Snow, who listens carefully to his radio, waiting for word of dog sightings. "There's puppies and a nourishing mother comes in and out. We've also heard of a few dominant male dogs running through here."
The deputies and dog-catchers follow the beams of their flashlights through high weeds and between the buildings.
The group doesn't notice the eyes of a squatter peering at them from behind make-shift curtains and busted windows of an abandoned second-floor apartment: they're focused on the ground, where the dogs are likely hiding.
"Those people probably aren't living there legally," Snow says. "We're focusing on dogs tonight."
The group pulls a black adult pit bull from one of the buildings and puts it in a cage in the back of an Animal Control van. Hungry and scared, its eyes dart from left to right.
The group chases about a dozen dogs throughout the night. But they miss most of them. There isn't any tranquilizer on this trip, because it's a safety hazard.
"If we tranquilize a dog they could run under a building and fall asleep," said Dave Walesky, Animal Care & Control spokesman. "There's needles and stuff scattered under there. There are always safety concerns."
They use Popeye's fried chicken to lure the dogs instead.
"Fried chicken is the best bait for these dogs," said Dave Walesky, spokesman with Animal Care & Control.
They put down the bait and wait for the dogs to appear, but not many show up. In 2010, when deputies and animal control workers last scanned the streets, they reined in more than 30 dogs.
By midnight, they had found two. With any hope, the dogs will be adopted.
The last one they find – a 10-month-old brown Pit Bull – is roaming a parking lot across the street from a liquor store and outdoor prayer service.
Dog catcher Marcel Goncalves kneels down beside the dog and scratches its back. The puppy wags its tail.
Goncalves then lifts the Pit up and puts it in an empty van cage, hoping it would soon have a home.