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September 2, 2013 / V A Nichols

Local humane officials concerned about dog fighting


In the wake of last week’s huge bust, worries abound


Sep. 1, 2013 11:35 PM
In the world of dog fighting, pit bulls are one of the most sought-after breeds and, local humane society authorities say, among the pets most frequently reported by owners as missing.


The take-down, involving 13 search warrants and law enforcement agencies from local to national levels, has some experts calling it one of the largest dog fighting raids in American history.

But is it over? Does it happen here? And who is affected, in what ways?

Cord sends a weekly e-newsletter to subscribers. Along with the featured pet of the week, announcements and shelter wish lists, she often gives an insider’s perspective of life at the shelter. Last week’s letter came just days after the raid, which exposed the extent to which dogs are exploited, particularly pit bulls and other dogs commonly referred to as “bully breeds” because of their association with fighting.

Cord said most people have a “not in my backyard” mentality when it comes to such brutal acts. But one of the major sites of dog fighting activity was in Lee County; about an hour’s drive from the tri-county area.

“A person would have to be very naive to think that this heinous activity doesn’t take place in our county,” she wrote. “It does.”

Though none of the dogs confiscated in last week’s raid are at HSEC, Cord is familiar with the scenario. She has seen it in the number of families who call the shelter in search of their missing pet pit bulls.

“We spend a lot of time calling back to see if their dogs come home,” she said. “Do the pits get home as much as the other (missing) dogs? No. When they’re gone, they’re gone. With some, the collar and the tags are in the front yard. That’s not a good sign.

“Do I know of an exact property? No,” Cord said of possible dog fighting activity in the area. “We see evidence of it in dogs brought to us, found with given wound patterns. It’s here. We know it’s here. Large or small scale, it’s hard to tell.”

With many of the pit bulls that are surrendered to the shelter, evidence of fighting and cruel restraints is obvious — through types of injuries and in signs such as severely clipped ears (when the bulk of a fighting dog’s ears have been cut off with scissors, the opponent dog doesn’t have that extra bit of extraneous flesh to grab for an advantage).

Training grounds

Families with pit bulls aren’t the only pet owners that are concerned, she said. Increasingly, HSEC has received an inordinate amount of pet theft reports from specific neighborhoods concerning smaller-breed dogs — and even puppies and kittens — which can be used as bait for fighting dogs in training. To build confidence, trainers offer these small, defenseless contenders so fighting dogs in training can experience an easy victory.

She said it’s a trend that has left owners of all kinds of pets in fear.

“You run from the extremely organized, larger fights to the wannabes that might be known locally. They’ll say, ‘Let’s steal dogs together and see if they fight.’ It’s sad that we have people that will do that.”

Montgomery Humane Society (MHS) Executive Director Steven Tears said these roadside ringleaders are sometimes preparing dogs for big, lucrative fights. He added that MHS has received secret videos of such fights. On a larger scale, this kind of insider-provided evidence led to the recent bust.

In the minds of organizers, cruelty, if it exists at all, is an afterthought. It’s all about money, Tears said.

He said the idea that dog fighting is a pastime on “the low-income side of town” is a big misconception. There is a lot of money on the line for organizers, who sometimes charge more than $100 for admission to dog fights, and for individuals betting on dogs in a fight, who can pocket thousands of dollars in a night.

Ending the cycle “takes time, which is a challenge,” Tears said. In the latest bust, “It took a few years for them to gather the evidence.”

He said the Humane Society of the United States offers financial rewards to people who report dog fighting, though some have to make the reports quietly, because the person involved is a family member.

Alabama, along with New Jersey and Louisiana, is home to the toughest set of felony cruelty laws against dogs and cats, Cord said. Dog fighting in Alabama is a felony-level crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“It’ll be interesting to see the details of this case,” Cord said of the latest dog fighting defendants, all 12 of whom have pleaded not guilty.


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