By Ciara McCarthy Victoria Advocate

ARANSAS, Texas — Two trained search dogs from Refugio were strangled Saturday by a man whom law enforcement officers were chasing near Holiday Beach, authorities said.

The Aransas County sheriff said in a Facebook post he believes the man responsible for strangling the dogs is an undocumented immigrant. U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not be contacted Monday to verify the individual’s immigration status.

Sheriff Bill Mills, of Aransas County, said in the Facebook post that a deputy began pursuing a truck Saturday morning about 9 a.m. The pursuit began after an attempted traffic stop on SH 35 north of Holiday Beach. The vehicle, a black Ford truck, initially began to slow down but then accelerated away from the deputy, who tried to stop the truck, Mills said in the post.

The truck eventually drove off the road and stopped at a brush line, where about 15 people fled on foot, Mills said.

A group of law enforcement officers from multiple agencies began searching for the people after they ran through the brush. Officers with the Aransas and Refugio sheriff’s offices, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department assisted with the search.

Refugio County deputies also brought a search dog unit to help locate the suspects. Refugio rancher Joe Braman, who is also a deputy for Refugio County, said he brought eight trained tracking dogs with him Saturday.

Together, the group of officers along with the dogs searched for the suspects, all of whom “had scattered on foot in the heavily brushed area,” Mills wrote in the Facebook post.

Braman, who regularly assists the sheriff’s office with manhunts and other searches, said his dogs ran through the brush tracking the group while he and other officers followed on horseback and on foot.

Searchers found and detained three people during the search before finding three more in a heavy thicket, according to Mills’ post. When they found the second group, officers found two dogs dead from apparent strangulation, Mills said.

“The collars carrying trackers had been twisted tightly about their necks, causing their deaths,” Mills wrote.

The six people detained by law enforcement, five men and one woman, were briefly jailed at the Aransas County Detention Center before they were picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. One of the men had a tattoo that indicated cartel affiliation, Mills said, but his relationship to any cartel has not been confirmed.

Braman’s dogs were not aggressive and were trained only to track, not bite, Braman said. The group of eight dogs were trained to locate individuals and circle and bark near their location. Braman has trained dozens of dogs, including many to track rhino poachers in South Africa.

Braman said he believed it was just one man who attacked his dogs, and that he was glad that person couldn’t do any additional harm.

“You try to make as many apprehensions as you can and get the guys off the street so they don’t hurt others,” he said.

Braman’s dogs, ages 8 and 3½, were also used to help locate people with dementia and Alzheimer’s who had wandered away from their homes.

Mills could not be contacted for comment Monday because of the Labor Day holiday. Information was not available about what preceded the Saturday morning traffic stop or the whereabouts of the other people who fled the truck.

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