Yesterday, we assisted federal and state law enforcement officers as they executed nearly two dozen search and seizure warrants at multiple properties in South Carolina in what is believed to be the biggest takedown of a suspected dogfighting network in the state’s history. When the day was over, state and federal agents had rescued 275 dogs.

For the dogs found on the end of heavy chains, some with horrific injuries consistent with being forced to fight, the rescue brings a lifesaving escape from nightmarish conditions.

Federal officials launched the sting on Saturday, interrupting a scheduled dog fight and rescuing 14 dogs. On Sunday, officials from federal and state agencies deployed to other sites where dogs suspected of being used for fighting were housed. Our teams were present at three of those sites to assist in the removal of dogs.

At those sites, our rescue team found one tragic scene after another: nursing mother dogs in wire hutches with no apparent access to water or food, dogs on heavy chains or in filthy pens. A number of dogs appeared to have suffered broken bones which had not healed properly—one young male dog had an apparently broken leg with infected puncture wounds. On another property where dogs were chained in a forested area, a black dog with a festering wound on his chest sat chained, apprehensively watching the rescuers approach. Our team members removed him immediately for urgent veterinary care.

A thin dog wagged her tail and pulled against the end of her chain to get closer to the rescuers, seemingly desperate for attention and affection from responders. When a member of our rescue team kneeled next to her, the dog nuzzled her head against the rescuer’s legs.

One curious nursing mother peered from her hutch, as her babies sat in empty food bowls, likely a desperate attempt to avoid having to stand endlessly on the harsh wire floor of the hutch, which was also soiled with feces.

Rescuers found haunting scenes on one of the properties: a pool of coagulated blood next to an empty collar still attached to a heavy chain; an empty pink collar attached to frayed rope hanging from a tree; a large battery with wires and clips attached to it. We cannot know how these objects were being used until this federal investigation is complete, but in the past, these kinds of objects have been used by dog fighters to kill dogs who refused to fight.

Some of the rescued animals had open wounds, lacerations and abscesses. Several dogs were deemed to be in critical condition due to the severity of their untreated wounds. One dog had wrapped his chain around a tree so tightly that he had virtually no room to move. Some had no apparent access to food, water or any shelter besides flimsy, overturned barrels. Many dogs’ bodies were scarred, and their body language—cowering, hunched shoulders, lowered heads and fearful, timid eyes—hinted at the treatment they had endured.

According to U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs, this joint operation had been months in the making and involved the work of state and federal offices, the South Carolina governor’s office and a number of community partners.

With help from Bark Nation, we have now transported the dogs to undisclosed safe locations where they are receiving much-needed care and attention. RedRover is also assisting.

The complex coordination between these groups, our rescue team and the federal and state agencies involved in this operation shows that the saying “it takes a village” applies aptly to large-scale animal rescue efforts.

The injuries inflicted during dog fights are severe and often fatal. Typical dogfighting injuries include severe bruising, deep puncture wounds and broken bones. Dogs forced to fight often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or infection hours or even days after the fight. The animals have typically been bred and conditioned for fighting, setting the stage for a lifetime of mistreatment, neglect and suffering.

Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, dogfighting is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The same goes for possessing, training, selling, buying, delivering, receiving or transporting dogs intended for use in dogfighting.

As distressing as it is to see the horror these dogs have endured, I find some peace in knowing they won’t have to suffer another day in these terrible situations—and that the people who engage in dogfighting anywhere in the country will see this sting operation as a warning to end their merciless and criminal activities.