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September 18, 2012

Collaboration Saves Dogs in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo Co. Animal Services and Enforcement, HSU, and The HSUS team up to stop dogfighting

  • Brix is just one of 70 dogs rescued from a Kalamazoo, Mich., dogfighting operation. Daisy Balawejder/The HSUS

by Stephanie Twining

A stout brindle pit bull, whom rescuers named Brix, was the victim of a dogfighting operation in Kalamazoo, Mich.

He was forced to live outside on a heavy chain. His leg had been bitten and shattered, but never treated.

Now, he is showered with affection at a temporary shelter run by The HSUS. Brix's leg will need to be amputated, but he is warming up to people and could soon be adopted by a loving family

Ramping up anti-dogfighting efforts

Brix's rescue was part of a campaign by authorities in Kalamazoo to crack down on dogfighting. In less than a year, more than 70 dogs were seized and five suspected dogfighters were put behind bars. This effort ramped up when Steve Lawrence, director of the Kalamazoo County Animal Services and Enforcement and his officer, Julie Barber, decided to collaborate with The HSUS.

"We suspected that dogfighting was a problem in our county, and we knew The Humane Society of the United States was the leading organization working to combat such crimes," Lawrence said. "If we combined our efforts, we could really make an impact."

HSU training benefits officers

Lawrence and Barber attended a course on animal cruelty and fighting investigations for law enforcement in Michigan, organized by Humane Society University. Several months later, Barber uncovered the dogfighting operations of suspected murderer Sam Steel and another man.

"We suspected that dogfighting was a problem in our county, and we knew The Humane Society of the United States was the leading organization working to combat such crimes."

"This isn't the first time our law enforcement trainings have led to successful investigations of animal cruelty," said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director for The HSUS. "We have strong animal cruelty and fighting laws in Michigan, but it's still critical that officers know what they are and how to enforce them."

Calling in the experts

Believing that there were other dogfighters in the community, Barber contacted Chris Schindler, The HSUS's manager of animal fighting investigations.

Schindler's expertise and The HSUS's database of suspected dogfighters helped Barber gather the evidence she needed against two others—one of whom had prior dogfighting-related and weapons convictions.

The HSUS's Animal Rescue Team was called in to assist with removing dogs and documenting evidence. At both properties, authorities found scarred dogs wearing heavy chains, dogfighting paraphernalia, and the bloody evidence of a dogfighting pit.

"Today, more than 70 dogs are now safe from a brutal life of dogfighting, and it's thanks to our successful partnership with The HSUS," said Lawrence. "Our work isn't over here, but hopefully our efforts can serve as an example to communities around the country of what can be accomplished if we all work together."

Stephanie Twining is public information officer for The Humane Society of the United States.

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