The ASPCA is on the ground in Freeport, Florida assisting authorities with evidence collection and the rescue of seven canine victims from a property where animals were allegedly housed and fought.
ASPCA responders discovered the dogs tethered to heavy chains at the scene, and many exhibited scars and wounds consistent with fighting. Drugs and dog fighting paraphernalia were also discovered on the property. We are providing the dogs with emergency medical treatment and behavioral enrichment, and they are being kept safe at an undisclosed location.
When we rescue dogs from lives of fighting, we eagerly await the day that we’ll be able to share stories of their new lives as beloved pets. One such dog is Lucy, a sweet pup who was one of 367 dogs we rescued from a multi-state dog fighting ring in 2013. On the dog fighting property in Alabama, Lucy had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. After her rescue, she received veterinary care and behavioral enrichment from the ASPCA and was later transferred Bully Project, a local rescue group in New York City. She was ready to find her perfect forever family, and a few months later, Peter and Anthony stepped in to fill that role.
“Anthony and I had been looking to adopt a dog for three years, but constantly found ourselves in a state of transition that made owning a dog difficult,” says Peter. After settling in Harlem, New York, the couple began to browse adoptable pets at New York City shelters and rescue groups. Their landlord introduced them to Bully Project in April.
“When we were shown a picture of Lucy, it was love at first sight,” says Peter. “We met her the next day and decided there and then to adopt her. Five days later we adopted her into her forever home.”
Lucy’s new life—with a bed to call her own, plenty of toys and lots of love—couldn’t be more different than the life of suffering she experienced before we rescued her.
“Having Lucy is amazing,” says Peter. “This is a first-time experience for both of us, and while there are many things to learn about having a dog—and about Lucy specifically—and there are adjustments we need to make to our lifestyle, we wouldn’t have it any other way. While Lucy can be timid and shy at first, she is incredibly sweet and loving. Watching her personality come out as she becomes more comfortable around us is heartwarming and entertaining all at the same time.”
We’re thrilled that Lucy has found such a loving place to call home.
“We are as excited to come home to Lucy as she is for us to come home to her,” Peter says.
Yesterday, in honor of National Animal Advocacy Day, Congress put out the welcome mat for Bam Bam, a special dog whom the ASPCA rescued as a puppy from a dog fighting yard in Alabama. The Congressional Animal Protection Caucus (CAPC) had invited Bam Bam to the Capitol as an ambassador for dogs rescued from animal fighting operations. U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Co-Chairs of the CAPC, were on hand to welcome the ASPCA and congressional staff.
Bam Bam joined a panel of experts to educate congressional staff about the fiscal and welfare challenges of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases. The ASPCA regularly works side-by-side with federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to rescue animals from animal fighting rings, as well as expend vast resources caring for these animals afterward.
Federal criminal cases take many months or even years to progress. While they slowly advance, rescued animals must be housed, fed, and provided with veterinary and behavioral care. They often can’t be re-homed until the cases conclude, which means a dog may spend over a year waiting for his or her fate to be determined by a court.
Once the ASPCA and law enforcement authorities come to the rescue, these animals should be able to start new, happy lives; but federal seizure laws weren’t written with animals in mind. Animals can’t be warehoused like cars, drugs or commonplace evidence—and while living in limbo in this way, seized animals often deteriorate psychologically and behaviorally. Meanwhile, animal-protection agencies rack up astronomical costs to safely shelter these animals on behalf of federal law enforcement.
Fortunately, on National Animal Advocacy Day, we’re grateful for the great animal allies we have in Congress and in the Department of Justice (DOJ) working to solve this problem through legislation and regulatory changes. Reform is needed to have the alleged abusers, rather than taxpayers or groups like the ASPCA, pay for the costs of caring for their seized animals or relinquish custody of the animals, allowing them to be re-homed much faster.
We’re also indebted to our amazing citizen advocates, who sent more than 13,000 emails to the Department of Justice over the past month thanking them for prosecuting animal fighters and urging them to get even tougher this year.
There’s no question dog fighting is a deplorable crime. Few things are more cruel, which is why the barbaric activity is a felony in every state. Nonetheless, organized dog fights continue, attracting large and surprisingly diverse crowds of participants and spectators in locations that range from rural towns to dense cities across the country.
By our estimate, there are tens of thousands of dog fighters in the U.S., forcing hundreds of thousands of dogs to train, fight, and suffer every year.
These are not fringe or rare events; dog fighting is a cruelty-for-profit industry. In the last five years alone, we’ve assisted law enforcement on over a hundred dog fighting cases, come to the rescue of more than 2,100 dogs, and helped prosecutors file 463 criminal charges related to dog fighting. Less than three years ago, we assisted in the raid of the second-largest dog fighting operation in U.S. history, involving over 350 dogs.
As long as this blood “sport” continues, we must do more to fight it. Animal fighting laws can be strengthened to ensure penalties match the severity of crimes committed. Police officers can be better trained to identify and investigate dog fighting cases. And law enforcement can be given adequate resources to care for canine victims so authorities are not deterred from raiding these sites.
By changing our local and national priorities, we can ensure that dog fighting is seen, treated, and punished as not just a heartless offense, but as one of the most despicable crimes in our society.
Achieving that goal requires the enthusiastic participation of law enforcement, as we have here in New York with our NYPD partnership. But to explore how police officers across the country view their animal welfare roles and challenges to them, we conducted a national study of over 500 law enforcement officers.
The results revealed that while most officers consider dog fighting a “severe” crime, 40 percent said limited resources—including money, time and manpower—pose a major obstacle when it comes to pursuing dog fighting cases. And nearly half (49 percent) reported that they need more training on how to investigate animal cruelty.
When asked how much specific training they’d already received, 52 percent of the officers said none whatsoever. And 75 percent reported that they had not received training or guidance on dog fighting cases in the last year.
These results show that many police officers are ready and willing to take on dog fighters, but aren't equipped with all they need to work most effectively.
More and more, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are asking for the ASPCA’s assistance with these cases and for training on how to best investigate dog fighting. We’re committed to providing our expertise and resources to help law enforcement around the country combat this horrific crime.
But the public can also make a big difference. While every city has its own approach and barriers to fighting animal cruelty, what they have in common are communities of outraged people, eager to do whatever they can to end dog fighting for good.
If you hear or see anything that makes you suspect animal fighting or the training of animals to fight, notify the police immediately. Public tips are often the breakthrough authorities need to stop not only animal abuse, but other crimes often found at the scene, including drug dealing and illegal firearm sales.
Even if you’ve never heard about a dog fight, that doesn’t mean they’re not happening nearby. We also can’t relax simply because animal fighting is illegal. I’ve witnessed enough horrific crime scenes to know that animal fights can take place anywhere, and that they represent the absolute worst of human nature.
When we put more pressure on our local and federal government, offer more training and resources to our police forces, and ultimately give the issue of animal fighting the seriousness it deserves, many more lives will be saved from suffering.
Conducting a dog fight is a felony in all 50 states, but to truly crack down on this despicable blood sport, states need to pass laws giving law enforcement more tools to catch these criminals and deter this cruel activity. In recent months we’ve seen great legislative opportunities squandered, so we must redouble our efforts to raise awareness.
It is illegal in 49 states to own dogs for the purpose of fighting. Sadly, this past March the Kentucky Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have brought the Bluegrass State in line with the rest of the country, perpetuating its dishonorable distinction as a haven for dog fighters.
Similarly, 49 states have made it illegal to be a spectator at a dog fight, but earlier this week, April 7, Montana legislators voted down legislation that would have made it a crime to be a spectator at an animal fight. If you live in Montana, see how your state senator voted, and in honor of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day, please politely let him/her know how you feel about their vote (a Yes was a vote in support of this bill to strengthen penalties for dog fighting).
No matter where you live, it is critically important to raise awareness about dog fighting—as heinous an activity as it is, lawmakers around the country still need to receive the message. Please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade and we’ll let you know when anti-fighting bills are under consideration in your state.