By Deirdra Funcheon
By Chris Joseph
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Terrence McCoy
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Chris Joseph
Hell in South Florida is a taupe, one-story house where rusted chains dangle from trees and the smell of feces and decay is so strong it lures rats at night. On even the brightest of days, sunlight doesn't infiltrate its darkened chambers. And the baying of dogs — 34 pit bulls inside tight cages scattered throughout the house — saturates the streets of this somnolent enclave in West Park, a tiny town on the Broward/Miami-Dade border.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Ty Smith, a curly-haired neighbor in jean shorts and a black shirt, stands outside the cluttered home. The 42-year-old squints down the street at the intersection of Hallandale Beach Boulevard and SW 32nd Avenue and murmurs, "There he is. He's coming back now. That's him in the green van."
Moments later, a battered Ford Econoline van wobbles to a stop before the house, and three disheveled men clutching cans of Natural Ice beer climb out, led by the 66-year-old homeowner, Reno Yohai, a soft-spoken, mustached convicted child molester who walks with a slight limp. Three caged pit bulls out front bark and then watch Yohai glide past and step into the pungent darkness of his house. Inside, a dozen more dogs push their snouts against crates lining the hallway and howl. There is more canine wailing in the bedrooms and behind the house, conjuring an atmosphere somewhere between the pound and a 1940s horror film.
"I'm not quite sure how many dogs I have," Yohai sighs as he settles his slender frame atop a living room coffee table to stroke a hairless pit bull. He calls his house the "Warlock Kennels," and he has added to this collection for decades. "This has been 35 years in service of the pit bulls. Whatever I do, I do for the breed. I help out the pit bulls. This is a rescue."
That claim, however, is debatable. Since 2007, Yohai has become known to authorities as perhaps South Florida's worst dog owner. West Park has fined the five-time felon nearly $160,000 for code violations ranging from using his property as a junkyard to breeding pit bulls in a residential zone. In internal reports, inspectors have condemned his property as a "sanitary nuisance" and a "public nuisance." Neighbor after neighbor has also complained about Yohai's treatment of pit bulls, and police records show the cops have inspected his residence more than 80 times over the past three years to investigate, among other claims, allegations of animal cruelty.
"He keeps the dogs caged 24/7, and he just feeds them raw meat and raw chicken," Smith charges. "I've found a couple of dogs dead, and he just buries them in the backyard. He has 40 dogs buried there. He acts like he's a rescue, but really he's just hurting the dogs. Plus, he's a hoarder, and his house is just horrible. People can't sell their houses because of his."
Worse still, authorities have been powerless to act. No complaints of animal cruelty have been sustained, and despite Yohai's heinous actions in the past, cops have turned up no evidence of criminal malfeasance. In this case, county laws and regulations have done no good.
"We can't just take the man's animals," says Lisa Mendheim, a spokeswoman for Broward County Animal Care and Adoption, adding that West Park doesn't restrict the number of dogs a resident can own. "The dogs aren't starving or in danger, so we can't just go in there and say, 'We're taking the dogs.' "
West Park Mayor Eric Jones expresses frustration over Yohai's Warlock Kennels. The dog owner has been a problem for years, Jones says, but no one has a solution. "We cannot find anything illegal. If we had, we would have done something. I have no idea how many pit bulls he has. The neighbors say he has a lot, but we haven't been able to find out. Law enforcement hasn't either."
During a recent visit, New Times counted 34. And though the animals appear to be in good health, their situation is far from ideal. They are locked inside cages strewn among soiled bed mattresses, overturned cupboards, and discarded slabs of rotting wood. What's more, if public records are any guide, Yohai has lived much of his adult life in such fetid conditions — along with dozens and dozens of pit bulls.
Born in Havana in 1947, he came to the United States soon after and settled with his mother in a Manhattan apartment. His mom, he remembers, "was deathly afraid of dogs and cats" and neither allowed pets inside the cramped quarters nor for Yohai to visit homes with animals. The boy was lonely for more family. "My entire family was down in Florida, so after I graduated from the University of Bridgeport [Connecticut], we came down here to be with them."
As soon as he arrived, he took contract work tiling floors. And though that's been his primary source of income through the years, he's supported himself in other ways as well. In 1972, while maintaining what he calls "a spiritually and morally bankrupt lifestyle," he was charged in Miami court with a felony count of intent to sell marijuana. (Adjudication was withheld.)
Also around that time, he took in his first pit bulls. They captivated him. "And this was when Warlock came into my life," Yohai recalls. "My great dog."
One night soon after, in the early '80s, his mother broke her hip and moved into his Davie home. "I watched that dog melt 80 years of [my mom's] canine phobia," he says. "I saw Warlock come gently up to her and lay his head on her lap. And, slowly, she reached out and put her hand on his head. She became completely dependent on that dog for her security, and from then on, I've lived in service of the breed."
But in 1992, he lost contact with the animals. That year, he was arrested on charges of sexual battery of a minor. "It's not something I'm proud of," Yohai says. "It was one drunken night in my life 20 years ago."
The police report is more specific. According to an arrest affidavit filed into evidence that year, Yohai, who was then 45, lavished a 16-year-old girl with money and jewelry and encouraged her to become a stripper. "He took her into a bedroom and had her try on two teddy outfits to wear while dancing," the affidavit says. He then served her beer and marijuana, and he videotaped her dancing naked on the coffee table. He showed her footage of him having sex with another girl, who appeared to be 16 or 17. Afterward, the girl fell asleep, and she awoke to find Yohai "holding her shoulders down on the couch and kissing her on the face and mouth," the affidavit states.
What police found in Yohai's possession was horrifying: eight pit bulls, guns, cocaine, camera equipment, and roughly 100 explicit videotapes — two of which depicted dancing girls. The residence, also home to Yohai's 81-year-old "invalid" mother and an infant, reeked. "It was deplorable," police spokesperson Bonnie Wilbanks told the Sun-Sentinel at the time. "The odor was so bad that myself and my detectives went out from time to time to get fresh air."
Yohai served seven years in state prison, convicted of five felonies, including two counts of sexual battery of a minor and possession of cocaine.
Even locked away, however, he thought of pit bulls. And upon his release from Everglades Correctional Institution, he took up the collection once again. His mother had died. So had Warlock. "It took me a while to get back on my feet. But people in the pit bull community were ready to give me the dogs, and Warlock Kennels just happened." In the mid-2000s, after spending years aspiring to live in a larger place to house more dogs, he moved into his West Park home on a quiet street overlooking Lake Margaret.
Problems with neighbors began right away. Next door was Maritza Garcia, who's lived in a pristine yellow home for two decades. She remembers their first meeting. "He told us he was an animal rescue, and back then, it was even worse," she says. "He had a girlfriend, and she had 32 Chihuahuas — on top of his 30 pit bulls."
In 2007, the City of West Park began slapping Yohai with a daily fine for a bevy of code violations, including raising pit bulls in a residential zone and allowing his property to atrophy. The next year, Yohai told police that three men armed with shotguns had stormed his house and stolen 11 pit bulls.
Neighbors began calling the county Animal Control. "Multiple dogs die every month, and he abuses others," says nearby resident Brenda Paisao, who says she visits the house every day. "I saw one puppy pulled out of the cage, and the puppy broke its leg."
Adds one Animal Control expert who probed the home in 2012 and requested anonymity for this story: "Broward County has the shittiest pet laws, and the officers are limited in what they can do," she says. "The real reason Animal Control hasn't stepped in is because all of the pit bulls will be put down [if they're taken. The shelter doesn't] have space for the dogs."
That fact represents the only common ground between Yohai and his detractors. "I know we don't live in the best conditions, but it's all we can afford," he explains, claiming he wants to adopt out the dogs. "The animal activists try to stop me without offering any help. I'm trying to keep these dogs alive."
But what sort of life is it?
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I have NO problem with this guy owning pit bulls, but I do have a problem with them being caged all the time. I have a pit bull and the only time she's in her kennel is when I go to sleep. It's her bedroom ... but the rest of the time, she's out and about on my property. The dogs are NOT vicious by nature ... but any dog can be trained that way, even breeds considered gentle by most. I got bitten by a lab on one occasion and a cocker spaniel on another. Both are considered friendly by nature ... but NEVER by a pit bull. I hope this guy finds homes for some of those dogs so the rest can be free around his home.
Failed animal shelters and rescues accounted for 4,196 dog impoundments and 1,824 cat impoundments in 2012––half the total number of impounded dogs and cats, and nearly 1,000 more animals than were seized from negligent breeders. Among the dogs who were impounded were 924 pit bulls and 942 Chihuahuas. Both breeds were impounded in neglect cases at about five times the rate at which they occur in the U.S. dog population, based on classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption.
I would hate to see a dog put down, but if you take the conditions they are in, it maybe the answer for them. These dogs are neglected/abused and whatever else. These dogs should not be kept in cages on urine soaked floors. They are probably filled with parasites and whatever else. I'm sure out of multiple facilities some of these dogs could be saved. I have nothing against pit bulls if raised w/a love and caring person, they can be like any other dog.
The ones shown in the outdoor cages don't look nasty, they seem very happy to see someone.
This guy can not be all with it, if he thinks his so called kennel is ok, then he is not right in the head. Its a real shame Broward County is not strict enough w/ their laws and allows these precious dogs to live like this, in rat infested conditions.
Time for STRICTER LAWS, BROWARD COUNTY FL. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.
"All of the pit bulls will be put down if they're taken" - then take them!! An inherently violent, unsafe species. Broward should prohibit pit bulls.
@ljmagnuson Not vicious by nature? LOL, that is what their bloodlines, their genetics is all about. Designed specifically and selectively to kill, that is the pit bull. To think otherwise is just plain foolishness. And if someone gets bitten twice by friendly dogs then it tells me that they don't know what they are doing.
@commenter8 They are not "bad dogs" by nature. It's some of the pit bull owners. THEY need to be put away somewhere. At one point in their history, pit bulls were trusted to watch over people's children. Their nick name was "nanny dog" because of this. Go read up on the breed's history sometime. All this "thug life" and the dog fighting culture is what's given them such a bad reputation. They didn't start out that way ...
@commenter8 so are humans. maybe we should put all of them down, too. especially the humans who encourage the death of other species. seems pretty sick to me.
@macawluver @ljmagnuson I'm not going to argue on your perception on the breed, but many dogs have been involved with fighting and were even bred for that purpose generations ago. But the Pit Bulls have been singled out as "vicious". I'd favor a law that said that ANY vicious dog isn't allowed somewhere, but not a law that targets any breed as vicious who has never been aggressive. ANY dog can bite by the way.
@smb09e1 @commenter8 - get mauled by one or have a love one mauled by them and I'm sure you'll sing a different tune. I myself would slaughter every last pitbull if it were up to me as my wife was mauled by one as she walked down the street. Over 10 operations to repair her hand, arm and face. Bring one to my house and see what happens to it!
Unreal they are not all like that. Its bc they are chained up all day or locked up all day. I have been bit 4times and not one of those times was by a pitbull. German shepherd Chihuahua yorkie and shih tzu and a corgie. I guess kill all those too. I'm walking my pit bull right now. U have to socialize them. Ita not the dogs fault ita the owners. I will kill anyone who hurts mine. And karma Will come back to anyone who hurts them. Everyone Will see judgement day
@avman88 @smb09e1 @commenter8 The owner of the pitbull who mauled your wife should have to pay medical costs and damages, and be required to take a course in how to properly raise a dog before ever being allowed to own one again. I share your views about vicious dogs, but not all dogs (even pit bulls) are vicious. A responsible dog owner who trained and socialized their dog properly would not have created such a serious problem for you, or anyone else. I really hope the owner of that dog had to pay the price!
I got attacked by a GOLDEN RETRIEVER and my friend very very badly by a LAB! I train all dogs and own pit bulls and have never been bitten by a pit but I have been bitten by other dogs.
Your wife was mauled by a DOG, regardless of its species. No one is contesting the right for you not to have one in your house, as you suggest. If others want to have a dog who happens to be a pitbull, that is their right.