— The man accused of killing or letting more than 200 dogs die behind his home was trying his best to care for them but was hampered by bad health, his attorney told a judge Tuesday night.

Loney Garrett, 64, of Garretts Court, is facing 43 felony counts of ill treatment to animals. Each count carries a penalty of a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

Boxes of bones were hauled off the property near Goose Creek Monday, as well as 45 sick and emaciated hound dogs.

“He was trying very hard to comply,” Garrett’s attorney, Melisa Gay, said in bond court. “Based on his diminishing health, he became overwhelmed.”

One of the detectives who hauled off the bones and carcasses had a different story.

“This was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my career,” Berkeley County sheriff’s Detective James Riser said.

Michelle Reid, executive director of Animal Rescue & Relief, the group that took the 45 dogs, also said she had never seen anything like it.

“This is one of the most horrific situations I have ever seen,” she said. “I don’t think he should be able to have animals ever again.”

Magistrate McGregor Dennis set Garrett’s bail at $500 on each charge for a total of $21,500. He also set a condition of no contact with any kind of animal.

History of charges

Court records show that by the time of his arrest Monday, Garrett already was facing four tickets on violations of a county ordinance governing the disposal of dead animals. The charges were filed last week, but they resulted from a case opened in late January by John Nutter, chief officer of Berkeley County Animal Control.

Contacted Tuesday, Nutter’s office deflected all questions to the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s spokesman Dan Moon said he could not immediately provide details about the earlier complaints.

He said that in recent weeks, animal control officers had been working with Animal Rescue & Relief, a nonprofit shelter whose volunteers strive to house animals without resorting to euthanasia.

Sheriff’s investigators were later brought into the case “when it got pretty big,” Moon said.

Garrett’s arrest was his first in South Carolina, according­ to the State Law Enforcement Division.

He lives in a single-wide mobile home at the end of a short dirt road named after him. A woman who answered the door Tuesday said she would dismiss all questions “unless you want to contribute money.”

“I don’t have a side of the story,” she said. “Money, that’s my side of the story.”

The home’s backyard and side lawn were littered with rusty automobile parts, old vehicles and animal cages. A weathered school bus sits near a battered storage shed. In the driveway, cages sat in the bed of a red Chevrolet pickup.

The property stretches into the woods adjacent to a vast lot full of rows of defunct vehicles that make up the nearby Blue and Gold Auto Storage.

Workers at the salvage yard often noticed a foul odor emanating from Garrett’s land, they said. Rainy days were especially putrid.

Neighbors hesitated to speak publicly about the situation because, most said, they knew Garrett as an amiable, churchgoing man who would wave and say hello.

“I mean, the smell was pretty bad,” one woman said. “But I didn’t know who it was or where it was coming from.”

A man who lives across the street said he never noticed a disturbance caused by the animals. He knew that Garrett enjoyed hunting and kept dogs for that purpose, but the extent of such activity was largely hidden by the home and the clutter surrounding it.

“I’ve never been back there before,” the neighbor said. “I thought he had maybe 20 dogs. I didn’t know he had that much dogs.”

Hunting dog abuses

At Carolina Coonhound Rescue in Ridgeville, owner Kelly Postell wasn’t surprised by the gruesome discovery.

Postell bills her rescue agency as the only one in the state specializing in finding new homes for discarded hunting dogs.

Hunting with the help of a dog has a long history in South Carolina, a history that has bred a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward caring for pups, she said.

As the wife of a hunter, she said that such a culture isn’t widespread.

“But this happens more than people are aware of,” Postell said. “Hunting dogs tend to be a dime a dozen to some people. They see them as property, not living, breathing things.”

Her rescue agency, which admits dogs from shelters, has seen as many as 40 hounds that have been picked up as strays statewide. Most of the animals, she said, have been deemed defective or otherwise unwanted by their owners and are abandoned on roadsides.

One of her most recent cases, a black and tan coonhound from Camden was taken to a shelter by its owner, who claimed that a cow had trampled the dog’s paw. X-rays revealed that the pup’s foot had been hit with a shotgun blast. Two of the dog’s toes needed amputation.

The dog has recovered, and Postell is looking to place him in a new home. Postell hopes to offer such assistance in the Goose Creek case. Even if the hunting dogs can’t hunt, she said, they can still serve a purpose.

“Hunting dogs can be stubborn and pigheaded,” she said, “but they can be amazing pets.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede. Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.