Guest blog by Deborah Press, ASPCA Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs
Today the ASPCA and the nation’s most capable and caring hearts and minds—from the Department of Justice, the FBI, USDA, and other organizations—met to problem solve around the future of animals rescued from fighting operations. The ASPCA and its government partners came together under the auspices of the Department of Justice’s Animal Cruelty Working Group, to ensure that the process for seizing animals used in these heinous crimes is as smooth and efficient as possible so that more animals can be saved.
The ASPCA regularly works side by side with federal, state and local law enforcement to save animals from cruelty and build criminal cases against abusers. When the ASPCA assists law enforcement in animal fighting raids, the animals are held in limbo as evidence—for over a year sometimes—while prosecutors and law enforcement agencies pursue cases against accused animal fighters. As a result, the animals must stay in temporary shelters and cannot begin their new lives in forever homes.
Animal fighting victims aren’t like other criminal evidence that can be warehoused in storage lockers for years at a time. These animals have delicate behavioral needs, and even with the best staff behaviorists in the country tending to them, rescued dogs often deteriorate psychologically after many months caged in a temporary shelter environment to the point where they cannot be adopted.
We are grateful to our partners for all of the work they do to stamp out animal fighting and for throwing their expertise and passion for animals into this important cooperative conversation.
At the request of the Indiana Gaming Commission Gaming Control Division, the ASPCA is assisting in the removal of more than 15 animals, including birds and dogs, from properties associated with cockfighting in Fayette and Henry Counties, Indiana.
The investigation began as a cockfighting investigation, and search warrants were executed Thursday morning for the seizure of roosters. The remaining animals were subsequently surrendered. Without access to proper food or water, many of the animals appeared to be malnourished and suffering from medical issues.
The ASPCA is assisting with intake and removal, and will transport the animals to a temporary shelter established by the Johnson County Animal Control, where they will receive medical exams and veterinary care. Our cockfighting experts are also guiding evidence collection to identify tools, drugs and other paraphernalia used in cockfighting. The animals will remain at the temporary shelter until custody is determined.
“We’re pleased to work with local authorities in removing these animals from a cruel situation,” said Kathryn Destreza, Investigations Director of the ASPCA Field Investigations & Response’s team, “sending a message that cockfighting and other crimes against animals will not be tolerated in this community or anywhere in the country.”
Cockfighting continues to be an insidious problem in the United States. Though it is illegal in every state, this brutal blood sport has been found in all types of communities and amongst all sorts of people. The ASPCA is dedicated to helping its victims and ending the cruel practice altogether.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since more than 300 dogs were rescued from lives of misery and horror in one of the largest federal dog fighting busts in U.S. history. The August 2013 raid spanned Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas, and resulted in ten arrests and the rescue of 367 dogs, ranging in age from just several days to 10-12 years.
The dogs were left to suffer in extreme heat, with no visible fresh water or food, and some were tethered by chains and cables attached to cinder blocks and car tires.
What a difference a year makes. Thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of countless organizations* and volunteers, many of the dogs are now enjoying carefree lives of comfort in the loving arms of families who adore them. We’ve told you some of their stories (who can forget Timmy, the poster pup?) but to mark the one-year anniversary of the dogs’ freedom, we have a few more updates complete with adorable photos. Please enjoy and share these inspiring happy tails using the hashtag #367rescue.
Arabelle Sharon N. was volunteering with Plenty of Pit Bulls in Gainesville, Florida, when she heard about Arabelle, a senior dog and one of several who had been used as a breeder. “I have a soft spot for the seniors and couldn’t wait to meet her,” Sharon says. “It was love at first sight for both of us. I spent some time with her in her kennel and when I got up to leave, she got up and barked as if to say, ‘please don’t go.’” It was the first time since the rescue that anyone had heard Arabelle bark. This lucky lady adores her new family, including her canine siblings, and loves life and everything it has to offer her. Sharon adds: “From the moment we arrived at the house, it was as if she had been waiting her whole life for a home of her own.”
Hope (FKA Mabel) Mabel was one of six dogs recently transported to the Great Plains SPCA in Merriam, Kansas to find her forever home. Mabel’s stay at Great Plains SPCA didn’t last long—three days after her arrival, Lisa G. saw Mabel on the local news station and immediately contacted the shelter expressing interest in adopting the rambunctious pooch. When Lisa saw that Mabel’s shelter ID collar read “923,” she smiled. It was the same as her birthday, 9/23. “It was meant to be,” says Lisa. “We just love her to pieces.”Mabel, now renamed Hope, spends her time with her canine sister, Jasmine, who was a rescued bait dog from a separate dog fighting case, and two human siblings along with Lisa and her husband.
Abby Abby was 3-months-old when Tamara H. became her foster parent through Charleston Animal Society (CAS) last October. Tamara was told that Abby came from a cruelty case, but that the specifics couldn’t be disclosed. She knew it was likely a dog fighting case. Although Tamara already had two dogs—a Chow-Shepherd mix and a hound—and hadn’t planned on adopting another, she knew soon after bringing Abby home that she wouldn’t be able to give her back. When CAS contacted Tamara to ask if she would like to keep Abby or bring her back to CAS to be made available for adoption, Tamara came in immediately to sign the adoption papers and make her forever home official.
* We want to extend a special thanks to the many volunteers and organizations (listed below) that have partnered with us over the past year, especially those agencies that have adopted out more than 10 dogs from the case: Thank you, Humane Society of Calvert County, Charleston Animal Society, Humane Society of Pinellas, Plenty of Pitbulls and Atlanta Humane Society!
A sign on the door of the house reportedly read “Premises is perilous to life,” and it was not a joke or an exaggeration. When the ASPCA and the NYPD entered the Queens home on Thursday, July 31, what we found was horrific—and heartbreaking.
Multiple dogs, many of whom were emaciated, scarred, and wearing heavy chains, were found without access to food or water. A bloody treadmill—a tool used to train dogs for fighting—weighted harnesses, steroids, syringes and other dog fighting paraphernalia were found in the home. At least one dog had deep scratch marks raked across its face.
Uniformed NYPD patrol officers from the 113th Precinct responded immediately to a complaint of dog fighting, called the ASPCA helpline, and less than 24 hours later both the NYPD and ASPCA—with the assistance of NYPD’s newly appointed Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad—were able to mobilize resources. Siblings Addison Holder, 44, and Keisha Hall, 33, are currently facing charges of animal fighting, unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine and felony drug possession, and are each being held on $100,000 bail. A third defendant was arrested on Wednesday, August 6.
The ASPCA has taken custody of the 20 canine victims found in the home. They are now receiving food, water, enrichment and love—many for the first time in their lives.
“Organized dog fighting is a brutal form of animal abuse where dogs are exploited and forced to fight as their owners profit from their torture,” says Matthew Bershadker, President and CEO of the ASPCA. “Through our partnership, the ASPCA and the NYPD are determined to protect New York City’s animals from this form of cruelty and bring their abusers to justice.”
The ASPCA and the New York City Police Department are reporting significant progress in the fight against animal cruelty since January 1, when the NYPD took the lead role in responding to all animal cruelty complaints in NYC and the ASPCA expanded its direct care support for its victims.
Through June 30, there were 70 arrests and nearly 200 animals rescued and treated by the ASPCA, an increase of nearly 160% and 180%, respectively, over the same period last year.
The record-breaking increases are a result of accelerated and widened police responses to alleged animal abuse complaints, as well as the ASPCA’s increased direct care support for animal cruelty victims, including medical treatment, behavior assessments and rehabilitation, and housing and placement.
“The clear success of this partnership underscores the incredible impact that can be achieved when law enforcement and animal welfare groups collaborate,” says Matthew Bershadker, President and Chief Executive Officer of the ASPCA.
“We are protecting some of New York City’s most vulnerable residents by enforcing laws against animal cruelty,” says Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. “The NYPD will continue this extremely worthwhile partnership with the ASCPA, and we look forward to our continued success.”
The ASPCA has increased our assistance to law enforcement officials in the form of forensics work, comprehensive legal services, field assistance, and ongoing training and educational materials for officers. All eight NYPD patrol boroughs, several detective boroughs, the Housing Bureau, the Transit Bureau, and the Legal Bureau—as well as a number of assistant district attorneys—have been trained by ASPCA staff with extensive NYPD or New York City prosecutorial experience.