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June 2, 2009

Alabama Showdown

The HSUS helps raid two dogfighting operations

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Rescuers comforted the abused dogs. Chad Sisneros/The HSUS

  • Most dogs bore scars consistent with dogfighting. Chad Sisneros/The HSUS

  • HSUS investigators helped carry the dogs to safety. Chad Sisneros/The HSUS

by Ariana Huemer

Loving, social animals deprived of human attention and stimulation. Dogs with normally beefy builds shrunken to gauntness. Canines of all ages chained in place with untended wounds and disease.

The toxic fruits of dogfighting were unmistakable in Monday's two raids in Randolph County, Alabama, but these dogs are the last crops the criminal ventures will harvest.

It's baffling that any interest in this blood sport remains after Michael Vick's dogfighting-fueled meltdown, but Monday's raids on two large dogfighting operations showed that animal fighting persists in the deep South.

Authorities arrested two men in the raids. Officials suspect one man ran a dogfighting operation since the 1970s. His decades of inflicting misery on dogs are now over, sparing countless animals future torment.

Coordinated Efforts Net 45 Dogs

The district attorney for Alabama's Fifth Judicial Circuit, E. Paul Jones, acted on intelligence provided by The HSUS in these raids, which were the culmination of an intense month-long investigation. Dr. Melinda Merck, forensic veterinarian with the ASPCA, and Dr. John Crowder assisted with the crucial role of intake and medical evaluation of the dogs.

Finally, Sumter County Florida Disaster Animal Response Team provided a transport unit that carried all the dogs to safety in a climate-controlled rig.

The simultaneous raids on two properties uncovered 45 suspected fighting dogs, a large stash of firearms and crack cocaine.

As expected, however, the most shocking discovery was the condition of the dogs.

Injuries and Distress

Ranging from battle-scarred veterans to younger, more recently wounded dogs, the animals suffered from open flesh wounds, untreated skin conditions and skin chafed raw from lunging endlessly against heavy chain restraints.

Most were emaciated, and one elderly dog hobbled along on three legs, his left foreleg warped at a painful angle from a previous break left untreated. Another little dog was missing part of her tongue, presumably a memento of her fighting days.

Investigators also discovered a hidden grave site containing the skeletal remains of dogs. The decomposing bodies were taken into evidence for forensic evaluation.

"The physical and psychological wounds displayed by the dogs here are typical of those we find in most fighting dogs," said The HSUS' Chris Schindler, who played a key role in the investigation. "The dogfighters are under siege, and The HSUS is accelerating our efforts to eradicate this horribly cruel, criminal industry."

Although the scars were varied, one feature shared by all the dogs was starvation for attention. Leaping into the air, yapping and eagerly trying to get close to their rescuers, every dog seemed to crave companionship.

Like any dog who spends his or her life at the end of a chain, these fighting dogs were woefully under-socialized, their only entertainment snapping at insects and gnawing their ramshackle shelters.

Fighting Back on Many Fronts

While The HSUS has battled animal fighting since the 1950s, in the years since the Michael Vick scandal our campaign shifted to high gear, thanks to concern and support from our members. A broad sketch of our accomplishments since then include:

  • The number of dogfighting raids has doubled across the country.
  • The HSUS is in the forefront with enhanced investigations and a doubled dogfighting reward offering.
  • The Humane Society University bulked up courses for law enforcement in conducting successful dogfighting investigations.
  • The HSUS' urban End Dogfighting campaign recently expanded into Atlanta, a city not far from Monday's raid.
  • The HSUS pushed for—and achieved—upgraded animal fighting penalties in 21 states and D.C. Dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states, and as of last month it is illegal in all states to possess dogs for fighting.
  • To help all states combat this crime, Congress dramatically strengthened the federal prohibition on animal fighting. The HSUS worked toward this victory for years.

Throw away The Key

Alabama's dogfighting law is one of the strongest in the nation, and landed one dogfighter a record 102-year sentence for his crimes just a few years ago.

With the help of D.A. Paul Jones and Randolph County Assistant D.A. Amy Newsom, hopes are high that Randolph County's alleged dogfighters likewise will not resume their cruel deeds any time soon.

What You Can Do

Help The HSUS in our national efforts against dogfighting with a gift to our rewards fund. If you suspect dogfighting in your community, learn how you can take action.  

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States.

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