Authorities and animal welfare organizations in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S recovered an unbelievable 367 dogs, mostly American Pit Bull Terriers, in a multistate dogfighting bust last Friday. Plenty of key evidence was found in the various locations, including medicines, staple guns used to close open wounds, and treadmills. Also seized were illegal weapons, narcotics, and more than $500,000 in cash.
The raid, the result of an intense three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn, Alabama Police Department, is being called the second-largest dogfighting bust in U.S. history, second only to the Missouri 500 case in 2009.
“It’s really a sad day to me and a sad day of affairs in the state of Alabama to have to even indulge in this type of criminal activity and prosecution,” U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. said in a statement following Friday’s bust, which spanned across the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas.
NBC News reports that at one of the raided sites, authorities found 114 dogs living in deplorable conditions, chained to truck tires, without food, water, or proper shelter. Many of the dogs were heavily scarred, some even covered in fresh wounds from recent fights. At other sites, the bodies of dead dogs were discovered.
At another raid in Elba, Alabama, Coffee County Sheriff David Sutton says he and his colleagues discovered dogs who were covered in fleas and so badly malnourished their ribs were sticking out from their bodies. The Sheriff says he is glad to have been a part of rescuing these poor dogs and hopes those responsible for their mistreatment get what they deserve.
“Those animals can’t speak like you and I,” Sheriff Sutton says. “They bark and they whine. We chose to speak for them, and I believe we sent a message out…. If you do the crime, we are going to come see you.”
The Humane Society of South Mississippi (HSSM) assisted police in the seizure of 49 more dogs at two separate locations in the Magnolia State, the Sun-Herald reports. HSSM Executive Director Tara High could hardly believe what she was seeing as she toured the sites where these dogs were kept.
“We are horrified to find such an operation in our Gulf Coast’s backyard,” High says.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) helped to manage the removal of the recovered Pit Bulls and pups from each raided property, and are currently caring for the rescued dogs in an undisclosed location.
“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,” an ASPCA statement reads, describing the conditions at one of the raid sites.
“Today, we ended the torture of hundreds of abused and neglected dogs,” President and CEO of the ASPCA, Matt Bershadker, says.
“We are committing to eradicating dogfighting in every dark corner where it festers,” says HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle in a statement on the HSUS site. “This series of raids reminds every dogfighter that they are not beyond the law and their day of reckoning will come.”
Manager of the Animal Fighting Investigations unit for the HSUS, Chris Schindler, tells USA Today taking down such a large-scale operation is sure to take a bite out of illegal dogfighting nationwide.
“To be able to fight their dogs and breed their dogs, they have to be able to have these connections,” Schindler explains. “I absolutely think this is going to send shock waves through the dogfighting community. It is going to put people on notice.”
Authorities involved in the case plan to hit the offenders with everything they’ve got. A 30-count federal indictment alleges that over a period of four years, the 11 suspected dogfighters worked together to promote an illegal dogfighting operation and to own, purchase, sell, and transport dogs over state lines for the express purposes of dogfighting and breeding more dogs to use in the cruel blood sport.
U.S. Attorney Beck tells CNN that if the individuals involved in the case are convicted, they will most definitely serve lengthy prison sentences as dogfighting is considered a felony in all 50 states.
“These dogfighters abuse, starve and kill their dogs for the supposed ‘fun’ of watching and gambling on a dogfight,” Beck explains. “Their behavior is deplorable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
But Mr. Beck says he has a better idea of where illegal dogfighters belong.
“I believe if Dante were alive today and were rewriting ‘The Inferno,’ that the lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who commit cruelty to our animals and to our children,” Beck says.