In what is believed to be the largest dogfighting raid in the South’s history, 367 dogs were seized in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia over the weekend by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office with assistance from ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS), Charleston Animal Society and several organizations from other states.
After a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn, Alabama Police Department, 13 search warrants were executed on the morning of Friday, Aug. 23, throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, along with more than $500,000 in cash accrued from dog fighting gambling activities that were monitored during the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered at some of the alleged dog fighting sites. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, and possible fines and restitution.
ASPCA, The HSUS and Charleston Animal Society responders helped manage the removal and transport of the dogs to temporary emergency shelters in undisclosed locations. Those organizations are also providing veterinary care and behavior enrichment to the dogs, which are estimated to range in age from just several days to 12 years. Organization representatives also assisted authorities in the collection of forensic evidence to be submitted for prosecution.
Conditions of the dogs varied, but one ASPCA veterinarian commented on the large number of the dogs that appeared emaciated. One yard contained 114 dogs sitting in 90 degree heat, scratching at fleas, with no apparent access to fresh water or food visible. The majority of the dogs were tethered down by chains. Many exhibited wounds, scars and other conditions consistent with dog fighting. Makeshift, filthy dog houses—many improvised from plastic and metal barrels and others made of chipboard with rotting wood floors and rusted metal roofing—provided the only shelter in the sweltering heat and humidity. A mother dog did her best to tend to her litter of six puppies in a feces-littered pen with no food or water.
“Today we ended the torture of hundreds of abused and neglected dogs,” said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “Never again will these dogs be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of the bare necessities. The ASPCA is extremely grateful to federal and local authorities who pursued this widespread investigation for so long, and we are happy to lend our assistance.”
“We are committing to eradicating dog fighting in every dark corner where it festers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “This series of raids reminds every dogfighter that they are not beyond the law and their day of reckoning will come.”
“As the first animal organization in South Carolina and one of the oldest in the nation, Charleston Animal Society continues to participate in these horrific animal cruelty raids, whether they involve dog fighting rings, puppy mills or hoarding situations. We have a long history of leading the charge against dog fighting and deploy our staff on a regular basis to operations across the country,” said Joe Elmore, chief executive officer of Charleston Animal Society. “Our staff helped with the initial raid, collecting crucial forensics evidence, then switched to providing medical support when the number of ill and injured dogs became evident.”
Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additional illegal activities are often connected with dog fighting, such as drug and weapons violations. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which would make attending an organized animal fight a federal offense, was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress. Additionally the proposed law would impose stiff penalties on anyone bringing a minor to a fight. The HSUS, ASPCA and Charleston Animal Society support legislation to strengthen federal and state animal fighting statutes and regularly assist local, state and federal authorities in dog fighting investigations and raids across the country.
“Dog fighting is not a sport. It is a monstrous act committed on helpless animals by violent criminals. If anyone suspects dog fighting is occurring in their area, they should immediately notify their local law enforcement agency or solicitor’s office,” Elmore said.
Individuals interested in aiding animals who are victims of cruelty, are urged to donate to Toby’s Fund at Charleston Animal Society.