Dozens of Pit Bulls Torment Residents in West Park

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.

Reno Yohai says he's saving pit bulls, but neighbors disagree.
Terrence McCoy
Reno Yohai says he's saving pit bulls, but neighbors disagree.

"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.)

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11 comments
chuckhoover83
chuckhoover83

"We've all rescued animals, but this was the worst house we'd ever seen," explained Dahlia Canes, the director of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation. "Everyone was stunned. No one could hold back their tears; it was just too inhumane. I almost vomited -- the stench was too much." Is this some type of joke? you have known about this man for 7 years in fact you have taken many dogs to Renos place over the years. It shocking how now you act like you just met him the other day. I met Reno at your even and at the broward commissioners meeting wearing mcabsl shirt. its not the first time his place has been busted and mcabsl has cleaned up his mess several times.

susanwilliams407
susanwilliams407

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hall16243
hall16243

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frankfudgeman
frankfudgeman

They need to sue the city or animal control for not doing anything. Apparently they think its more humane for the dogs to live in squalor than to be put down. Its disgusting. 

amy.mills
amy.mills

someone needs to help this man remove the dogs and get them into healthy environments and forever homes!

respectyourneighbors
respectyourneighbors

The title is misleading.  The pit bulls (not a breed) are not tormenting residents.  It's the actions of the owner of these dogs that is tormenting residents.  You have to question when people can't say no and accumulate animals.  You have to respect the concerns of neighbors.  There are better alternatives to helping innocent dogs than hoarding them.

waroberts840
waroberts840

Actually pit bull is a breed. It's called an American Pit Bull Terrier.

clayhundenshire
clayhundenshire

@waroberts840 


True, but the term 'pit bull' is used to merely as a description for over 30 breeds and mutts, especially for reporting. Pit bull in no way only refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier. People need to understand that definition, because in the US, it is very broad, and most of the time you read any story about pit bulls, the dog in the story has absolutely no American Pit Bull DNA.

respectyourneighbors
respectyourneighbors

@waroberts840 Pit bull is not a breed.  It's a term used for several breeds of dogs and mixed breed dogs with a block head.  If they all were American Pit Bull Terriers, shouldn't they all be called American Pit Bull Terriers if that's what all these dogs were?

 
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