11 Arrested, 367 Dogs Seized, in Fighting Crackdown
MONTGOMERY, ALA. The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and The Humane Society of the United States, at the request of the United States Attorneys Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, assisted in seizing 367 dogs in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia in what is believed to be the second-largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history.
At special request of the ASPCA, Asheville Humane Society sent Jennifer Brehler, Vice President of Operations and Government Affairs, and Angie Wilt, Animal Compassion Network department director, to assist with evidence collection and animal removal during the multi-site operation. Brehler and Wilt were escorted by the FBI to four different locations where they assisted the Field Investigation and Response team of the ASPCA.
After a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police, 13 search warrants were executed Friday morning, 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, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution.
It was heartbreaking to see the devastating neglect and abuse of the 113 dog we encountered at the first site. The dogs were living in their own filth, infested with fleas, many without water in the unbearable, humid 90 plus degree heat, said Brehler. It was inspiring to see experienced and compassionate professionals from various agencies working collaboratively to free these dogs from their chains.
This was Wilts first time responding to a large-scale animal rescue operation. I was horrified to see these dogs chained and hurting but the rescue operation was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life knowing these dogs would no longer have to endure their pain and live in such deplorable conditions, Wilt said. ASPCA and The HSUS responders helped manage the removal and transport of the dogs to temporary emergency shelters in undisclosed locations. Responders are also providing veterinary care and behavior enrichment to the dogs, which are estimated to range in age from just several days to 10-12 years. The ASPCA and The HSUS also assisted authorities with collecting 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. In one yard, 114 dogs, the majority tethered to heavy chains, sat in 90 degree heat, scratching at fleas, with no fresh water or food visible anywhere on the property. Some appeared to have no access to water at all, and many exhibited wounds, scars and other conditions consistent with dog fighting. Makeshift, filthy dog housesmany improvised from plastic and metal barrels and others made of chipboard with rotting wood floors and rusted metal roofingprovided the only shelter in the sweltering heat and humidity. Some dogs pulled at chains and cables that were tethered to cinder blocks and car tires. A female dog did her best to tend to six puppies, just weeks old, with no food or water, in a pen littered with trash and feces.
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.
Agencies assisting the ASPCA and The HSUS with the operation include: Florida State Animal Response Coalition and Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team (Bushnell, Fla.); University of Florida (Gainesville); Humane Society of South Mississippi (Gulfport); International Fund for Animal Welfare (Yarmouth Port, Mass.); Asheville Humane Society (Asheville, N.C.); Charleston Animal Society (Charleston, S.C.); Louisiana SPCA (New Orleans); American Humane Association (Washington, D.C.); Greater Birmingham Humane Society (Birmingham, Ala.); Atlanta Humane Society (Atlanta, Ga.); PetSmart Charities (Phoenix, Ariz.); Code 3 Associates (Longmont, Colo.); and Montgomery Humane Society (Montgomery, Ala.).
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 was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, which would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight. The HSUS and ASPCA support legislation to strengthen the federal and state animal fighting statutes, and regularly assist local, state and federal authorities on dog fighting investigations and raids across the country.
In July 2009, the ASPCA and The HSUS, along with numerous federal and local agencies, participated in a multi-state dog fighting raid, the largest federal crackdown on dog fighting in U.S. history, resulting in the rescue of over 500 dogs. The eight-state raid, launched by federal and local agencies, spanned Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi and resulted in more than 100 arrests.
Dog fighting is a horrific form of abuse and a highly organized crime that exploits animals for entertainment and financial gain, said Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCAs Field Investigations and Response team. Thousands of others all over the country continue to endure unimaginable suffering and death just like this at the hands of dog fighters. We want to end it once and for all.
By Frank Fraboni
Follow Frank on Twitter @Frabonz