A pit bull and her seven puppies belonging to Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown were among the animals seized in a suspected dog fighting operation in Wisconsin.
A county judge on Friday ordered the dog Eilis returned to Brown after it was removed May 21 from a pit bull breeding kennel near Eau Claire, according to the Leader Telegram.
The owner of Northland Pits, Joseph A. Sudbrink was arrested and charged with mistreating animals and running a breeding kennel without a license.
Authorities say a criminal investigation is continuing, the newspaper said.
Nineteen other dogs remain in the custody of the Eau Claire County Humane Association.
A humane officer, BeKah Weitz, told the court she saw scarring on the dogs and believed the kennel operators were fighting the dogs.
The kennel's website says it is a breeder of "quality old family red nose pit bulls." It also says that no dogs are "bred, sold or used for any illegal activities."
Weitz said dogs had contracted ringworm and possibly had other skin issues. She said they also were being kept in substandard conditions, specifically in houses without bottoms in damp conditions.
Brown, who did not appear in court Friday, purchased Eilis in 2010 as a pet, according to an affidavit. He sent her to Northland Pits for to be bred in February. After a week, she was returned to Brown in Wichita, Kansas, the paper reported.
Eilis was later returned to Northland Pits, where Sudbrink offered to whelp and wean the pups for Brown, who knew little about birthing and caring for nursing puppies, according to the affidavit.
The dog and her puppies were seized, along with the others, when a search warrant was executed on May 21.
The seizure comes almost four years after the Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick following his release from prison on federal charges connected to the brutal dog fighting ring he ran.
The decision to bring Vick to Philadelphia outraged animal lovers who were furious the team would sign a player with a sordid past that involved the torture deaths of untold numbers of dogs.
Sheila Kessler, a Stevens Point attorney who represented Brown and his wife, Morgan, argued her client is a victim, and the value of the puppies decrease the longer they are held."
“It’s a lot easier to sell 8-week-old puppies than it is to sell eight-month-old puppies,” said Kessler, who brought a photo of Brown hugging his wife, and his wife hugging Eilis to court.
Kessler, who serves on the Humane Society of Portage County board, picked up the Browns’ dog and puppies from the shelter..
Brown, on his Eagles bio page, says he bought Eilis in Canada because he couldn't find a "pure, pure" breed in the U.S. He also says he "has a passion for all animals" and is a hands-on trainer.
Brown posted a recent video of himself on his Facebook page training a dog to jump in the air to grab a stuffed toy hung from a tree.
Among his friends are pit bull breeders around the world engaged in "extreme" agility training, involving wrestling with stuffed toys and pulling tires.
He and his wife are regularly seen walking their two dogs in their Naval Square neighborhood in Philadelphia.