Their pit bulls were trained to kill, and if the dogs didn't perform, they would be hanged or electrocuted.

Officials said that the dogs' owners, Laura Acampora and Shane Santiago, both 33, for several months operated Chester County's top dogfighting ring out of their West Brandywine Township home, where five children lived.

The two have been charged with cruelty to animals and endangering the lives of children, county authorities announced at a news conference Wednesday.

According to an affidavit, the couple set up a fighting arena in their basement and had planned to turn the dogfighting operation into "a family business."

"It was just a house of torture, a house of pain, a house of horrors for these dogs," District Attorney Thomas Hogan said.

Santiago confessed to killing at least 10 dogs and told police he hanged one after it bit his daughter while they were feeding it, the affidavit said.

It took three minutes for the dog to die, Santiago told police.

Hogan said police also found jumper cables covered in fur, evidently from dog electrocutions in the home.

Authorities were alerted to the ring after reports surfaced of a dogfighting ring in the area. In September, police found a pit bull that had been burned alive in its cage.

Hogan said Santiago caught police's attention when he was suspected of dealing drugs in Coatesville.

Working with local police, Hogan said, county authorities learned that the West Brandywine house was the target of complaints from neighbors, with reports of visitors with out-of-state license plates coming and going regularly, sometimes leaving with injured dogs.

Police gained access to the rented home last week when Santiago and Acampora were evicted, Hogan said. In the backyard, they found several doghouses and a number of pit bulls, two of which were injured and several of which appeared malnourished. Investigators also found a dead pit bull puppy wrapped in trash bags in a trash can.

Inside, Hogan said, investigators found training equipment for dogfighting, including bite sticks, dog-size treadmills, and steroids to increase aggression in prize fighting dogs. In the basement, they found what appeared to be a bloodstained fighting ring.

Hogan said the arrests delivered a serious blow to dogfighting in the area.

"Usually you are catching one person who's got a couple dogs, who just happened to be hosting a fight that day. Who we caught is the person running the main dogfighting operation in Chester County," he said. "It's like catching the top of the drug pyramid as your first step."

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112 or awhelan@philly.com, or follow @aubreyjwhelan on Twitter.