Some good news on a topic laden with horror: Last Friday, the ASPCA helped end the torture of hundreds of abused dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas and brought to justice those who—for profit and perverse pleasure—betrayed and defiled the trust that connects humans and animals.
In an operation that involved 16 animal welfare organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, as well as at least 10 federal and state law enforcement agencies, 367 dogs across multiple locations in the Southeast were seized in the second-largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history.
I spent several years overseeing the ASPCA’s anti-cruelty group, where I witnessed or heard first-hand accounts of unspeakable acts of cruelty, but rarely have I encountered suffering of this size and scope. Dogs ranging in age from several days to 12 years were found emaciated and bearing typical scars of dog fighting, and left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Some were tethered by chains and cables to cinder blocks and car tires. Remains of dead animals were also discovered where the dogs were housed and allegedly fought.
These are the tell-tale signs of the horrors of dog fighting, the ultimate betrayal of the unique relationship that exists between humans and animals. Manipulating a dog’s intense desire to please its owner, perpetuating a life of chronic and acute physical and psychological pain, is the most horrific form of animal abuse.
The only consolation to this tragedy was the fact that, for the long-suffering animals who survived, lives of brutal torture and neglect had come to an end, and days of medical care and attention were about to start. Never again would they be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of bare necessities. No animal on earth—much less those often described as "man's best friend"—should have to endure such brutality at the hand of man.
As part of our raid, which we assisted at the request of the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI, federal and local officials also seized firearms, drugs, and over $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities. All of these efforts were the result of a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police.
Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. If convicted, they could each face up to five years in prison.
I believe these atrocities and the subsequent results will have positive and practical reverberations that will make a difference. The raid elevates the issue of dog fighting -- a reprehensible and vile activity – to people who will not only be appalled, but moved to share news and information, and fight for common-sense legislation. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t seem to stop the atrocity. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, which would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight, expanding the implications of participation in this terrible crime.
I'm very proud that we saved these animals, and the unprecedented ways we did. This is not the last dog fighting ring we'll break up, but you can be sure we'll be working hard until the day we can finally say it is.
After a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police, 13 search warrants were executed Friday morning, Aug. 23, throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation.
The dogs, ranging in age from just several days to 10-12 years, had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Many are emaciated with scars and wounds consistent with dog fighting, and some were tethered by chains and cables that were attached to cinder blocks and car tires.
ASPCA responders and responders from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) helped manage the removal and transport of the dogs to temporary emergency shelters in undisclosed locations, where responders are providing veterinary care and behavior enrichment. Responders also assisted authorities with collecting forensic evidence to be submitted for prosecution.
Other animal welfare groups assisting with the operation include Florida State Animal Response Coalition and Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team (Bushnell, Fla.); University of Florida (Gainesville); Humane Society of South Mississippi (Gulfport); International Fund for Animal Welfare (Yarmouth Port, Mass.); Asheville Humane Society (Asheville, N.C.); Charleston Animal Society (Charleston, S.C.); Louisiana SPCA (New Orleans); American Humane Association (Washington, D.C.); Greater Birmingham Humane Society (Birmingham, Ala.); Atlanta Humane Society (Atlanta, Ga.); PetSmart Charities (Phoenix, Ariz.); Code 3 Associates (Longmont, Colo.); and Montgomery Humane Society (Montgomery, Ala.).
Our responders are still on the ground, and we’ll provide updates as the case unfolds. Stay tuned to aspcarescue.org for more news to come. Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #367rescue.
These dogs’ lives were very different just one year ago. On June 21, 2012, we found them living in the dark, dirty basement of a six-story apartment building complete with a makeshift fighting arena, dog treadmills and a shopping cart full of raw chicken parts.
For months, ASPCA responders provided the dogs with extensive socialization, a healthy diet, medical care and exercise at a temporary shelter. Our goal was to prepare the dogs for adoption into loving homes, and give them a second chance to enjoy the rest of their lives free of pain and suffering. We’ve told you some of their stories. Watch the whole story and an interview with Unicorn’s adoring pet parents:
The Bronx dogs’ owner, Raul Sanchez, who pleaded guilty to dog fighting earlier this year, was sentenced to one to three years for animal fighting, one year for animal cruelty and one year for criminal possession of a weapon.
The ASPCA is assisting in the forensic evidence collection, removal, transport and sheltering of more than 60 fighting roosters from a property in Spencer, Indiana. Other animals including dogs and farm animals were also seized from the property. We’re assisting at the request of the Indiana Gaming Commission, the Gaming Control Division and the Monroe County Humane Association.
At the property this morning, responders discovered rooster remains and roosters showing signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention. The roosters were housed in outdoor pens or tethered outside with no access to water.
The animals were transferred to a temporary shelter where they will receive veterinary care from the ASPCA’s medical team. ASPCA veterinary technicians, animal handlers and responders are also assisting on the scene and at the temporary shelter.
A search warrant, issued by Owen County Circuit Court, was executed Wednesday morning for the removal of the birds, as was an arrest warrant for Jeffrey Russell Pierce, 26. Pierce was arrested on charges of possession of fighting animals, promoting an animal fighting contest and possession of animal fighting paraphernalia.
In Indiana, cockfighting and the possession of birds for fighting are Class D felonies, each punishable by up to three years in a state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Possession of implements is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 180 days in a state jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
The ASPCA is also assisting the Indiana Gaming Control Division in documenting animal related evidence for the criminal case and lending the services of its Field Investigations and Response and Veterinary Forensics teams. The Indiana State Police, the Indiana Board of Animal Health and the Owen County Prosecutor are also assisting in the operation.
“Cockfighting is a brutal blood sport where the unwilling participants—the roosters—are forced to fight, often to the death, for the entertainment and financial gain of their owners,” says Terry Mills, Director of Blood Sports for the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team. “The ASPCA is proud to lend our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to local authorities to help put an end to this disturbing activity and secure justice for the animal victims.”
In March, the ASPCA assisted local law enforcement, the FBI and the Missouri State Highway Patrol in a multistate dog fighting investigation that resulted in the seizure of nearly 100 animals from multiple locations in Missouri, Kansas and Texas. Since then, an ASPCA team has been working around the clock to care for the rescued animals. We’ve also been fighting for justice.
That’s why we’re pleased that yesterday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, Pete Davis Jr., 38, and Melvin Robinson, 42, each pleaded guilty to one count of transporting dogs to participate in animal fighting. The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 9. Charges for a defendant in Texas are pending.
As a result of the hearing, dogs seized from the defendants’ properties in Missouri will be signed over to the ASPCA. We will explore placement options with various rescue groups. Dogs placed with ASPCA response partner shelters after this hearing will be the second group from the case to be placed for adoption.