STUART, Fla. — An animal cruelty investigation is underway in Martin County after nine dogs were rescued in extremely poor conditions, according to the Martin County Sheriff's Office.
"It really frustrates me that somebody would just do that to animals having zero regard for their life, knowing that they're probably not going to make it," Erica Rourke said. "I think that the number is nine or 10 at the moment, and who knows how many didn't survive?"
Rourke spotted the dogs along Ault Avenue and Cove Road while she was dropping off her kids at school.
She then called Animal Care and Control to help.
"These women are amazing at what they do," Rourke said. "They're in the grass. In Florida, there's ants. There's bugs. They put everything they can into catching these dogs. It's really hard."
Rourke said one of the dogs couldn't walk when it was rescued.
Furry Friends is helping with the recovery.
They were able to save nine dogs but said one is still out there.
Rescue teams are hoping they can get to the 10th dog before a predator does.
"There's a big pond, there's gators in Florida and panthers and bobcats," Rourke said. "The condition that we found the two puppies, if there was a predator, there's no getting away."
The Martin County Sheriff's Office is launching an animal cruelty investigation due to the extreme Florida heat in which that the dogs were found.
"Do we think that somebody may have dumped these dogs, that they got loose? What do we think happened?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked.
"Well, the answer is we don't know," John Budensiek, chief deputy with the Martin County Sheriff's Office, said. "I can't imagine that they just got loose because any responsible pet owner would go looking for 10 small dogs. So, our theory is, right now, that the animals were dumped."
Budensiek said some of the dogs were malnourished, their fur filthy and matted with urine burns due to the conditions.
The dogs are believed to be the breed Lhasa Apso between 6 months and 4 years old.
Their fur had to be shaven off because of the extreme matting.
"This is despicable conditions that we found these dogs in," Budensiek said.
Once the investigation is over, the dogs will be available for adoption.
"They look to be in fairly good health now that they've been fed and taken care of," Budensiek said. "They're happy little dogs. They interact well with humans. They are a little bit shy, but they are not defensive or confrontational when interacted with."
Rourke said Animal Care and Control plans to head back to look for the last dog.
Anyone who may have found the dog is asked to contact authorities.