"Growing up, my family and I lived in very poor, very dangerous areas and dog fighting was prevalent,” AJ says. “My dad, who has the biggest heart in the world, would open our home to pit bulls that had been rescued from fighting. We fostered four, and kept them until we could find new homes for them."
The fifth dog AJ’s family rescued was a puppy who was being bred for fighting. "We ended up keeping him, named him Mugsy, and he was a part of our family for an amazing 16 years,” she says. Mugsy’s sweet nature inspired AJ’s lifelong commitment to rescue dogs as well as her love of pit bulls. “I've never been more in love with a dog, he was so sweet and kind, loved small dogs, and cuddled like he was Chihuahua."
Alongside passionate animal supporters like AJ, we’re working to eradicate dog fighting by advocating for stronger laws and harsher sentencing for those who fight dogs and by assisting with raids and rescues. But we can’t do it alone.
In honor of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day on April 8, we are bringing you the inspiring story of a black Lab who was rescued from this horrific form of cruelty—and who went on to become a beloved family pet.
Nancy and Rick C. were making dinner plans one November evening in 2013 when they got a phone call from Charleston Animal Society (CAS).
“They asked if we’d be willing to foster a dog seized in an animal-fighting case,” says Nancy. Without hesitation, they packed up Buddy, their three-year-old black Lab, and headed to the shelter for a meet-and-greet.
The dog, an 11-year-old male Labrador/Shepherd mix, was known only as No. 205. He took to the sweet-tempered Buddy instantly, so Nancy and Rick took both dogs to their favorite restaurant—one with a popular dog patio—and ordered a basket of sweet potato fries to share with their new foster.
Dog patios and sweet potato fries were a world away from the life No. 205 had previously known: living in a filthy, wire pen in the middle of a sun-baked yard where dogs were chained and trained to fight. When No. 205 was rescued, his fur was missing in patches and he tested positive for heartworm and tick-borne diseases. He was also underweight and had no access to fresh food or water. His silvery-gray muzzle made it clear that he’d spent most of his life trapped in that terrible place.
“His name is Silver, but I also call him Silver Bear,” Nancy says lovingly. After fostering Silver for nearly a year, she and Rick adopted him.
Though Silver seemed eager to forget his painful past, it was clear that the senior dog had been through a lot in the first decade of his life. “At times he would cower—like he had been kicked or mistreated, or grabbed by his collar—but he’s much more confident now,” says Rick, who takes Silver on long walks at a nearby park. Silver also enjoys the couple’s lake house a few hours away, where he chases ducks and revels in new smells, along with Buddy.
“His past is still with him,” says Nancy. “But the bottom line is we love him.”
Aldwin Roman, Director of Anti-Cruelty and Outreach for CAS, says that all 12 of the dogs transported by the ASPCA to CAS following the raid have been adopted—some, like Silver, by their foster families.
In the past two years, Silver has settled in to his happy new life. An oversized, stuffed red chair is his favorite spot for lounging, and he’s the only dog ever allowed to sleep on Rick and Nancy’s bed.
“He’ll lie in the sun sometimes, wander just a little in the backyard, and then come back inside,” Nancy says. Now weighing 60 lbs.—up from 45 when he was rescued—he gets a daily dose of fish oil to keep his silvery-black coat shiny.
“We are just so happy he found us; he’s brought us great joy,” Nancy says, adding that although the first part of Silver’s life was torturous, “We want his last years to be his best.”
Moises Cruz, 71, and Manuel Cruz, 60, both received sentences of nine months jail, a $1,500 fine and were required to sign an Animal Non Possess Order which indicates that they may not posses any animals nor work, live, or stay in any place where a live animal is kept.
“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice. It tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of our communities and is known to facilitate other crimes” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We are holding accountable those who raised animals for illegal sport, operated illegal gambling venues and trafficked fighting animals to New York City. My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport in New York.”
“Operation Angry Birds,” as the raid was known, resulted in the dismantling of the largest known cockfighting ring in New York State history. The birds, including roosters and hens, were found to be boarded in deplorable conditions and were transported to cockfighting events throughout the region. Moises and Manuel Cruz are among ten defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case.
The remaining defendants were sentenced for dog fighting offenses and ordered to pay restitutions totaling nearly $2 million to the ASPCA for the care of the dogs seized. The ASPCA is grateful to Assistant U.S. Attorney Clark Morris of the Office of the U.S. Attorney George L. Beck for prosecuting this case to the fullest extent of the law and ensuring that those responsible for the torture of hundreds of animals received due justice.
After more than a year of care from the ASPCA, hundreds of dogs seized during this case have finally moved on to the second chapters of their lives and are now living in loving homes. We hope that this historic case will send a message to those involved in dog fighting that these activities will not be tolerated in our community.
Removed from properties in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas, the dogs—who ranged in age from just a few days to 12 years—were scarred, starving, and tethered to heavy chains with little access to food or water. Most had never experienced life without suffering, and several of them, including a Pit Bull named Ruby, were pregnant with pups.
Though Ruby had likely spent most of her life abused and neglected, our Emergency Responders were amazed by her sweet, gentle nature. After giving birth, Ruby was adopted by one of our responders—and she is now in the process of becoming a certified therapy dog who will bring love and joy to local hospitals, schools and retirement homes.
Every dollar you donate to the ASPCA makes a huge difference in an animal’s life. For dogs like Ruby, it can mean the difference between life and death. Help us end their suffering: Make a gift to the ASPCA today.