An animal-rescue operation called Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue on Bowen Road in Elma has been raided by officers from local law enforcement and the SPCA Serving Erie County, as five pit bull terriers were seized and taken to the SPCA's Town of Tonawanda shelter.

Gina M. Browning, a spokeswoman for the SPCA, said Eric Gray, the operator of Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue, a 15-year-old not-for-profit organization, has been ordered to appear in Elma Town Court for proceedings in the animal-cruelty case April 4.

Browning said the raid on the shelter at 610 Bowen Road began early Tuesday afternoon. No spokesmen for Smilin' Pit Bull could be reached to comment Wednesday night.

The organization's Facebook page lists it as a public charity focused on helping needy pit bulls in the Northeast. It says the organization is “committed to increasing pit bull awareness and to furthering responsible dog ownership.”

Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue has been controversial in recent months. A Facebook group called “The Truth About Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue,” which started Jan. 11, includes dozens of stories from people who say they have had experience with the organization.

Those making critical comments identified themselves as one-time foster families for dogs from the group, people who adopted dogs from the group, or people who were once active in other ways with Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue.

Some of them complained that dogs had been denied veterinary care for injuries or illnesses and had deteriorated while in the group's care. Others said dogs had been confined to crates for extended periods.

Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue's Facebook page and its companion website include a forum discussing many aspects of pit bulls, from veterinary issues and training to diets and sports.

A posting by Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue says, “This site journeys through our past 15 years of owning and rescuing this wonderful breed.”

News Staff Reporter Anne Neville contributed to this report. email: