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.
In May 2012, I lost my Pit Bull of 11 years, Mojo Jojo, to osteosarcoma. My heart was broken. I knew I would adopt another Pit Bull but wasn't quite ready yet. I decided to foster a puppy named 17. He fit in really well, and loves his housemates—we have three Staffordshire Bull Terriers named Charlie, Rumble and Page, and two adopted cats named Mush and Viggo. After about three weeks, we decided to officially adopt him.
As a dog trainer, I felt it was important to socialize 17, taking him to new places, introducing him to people and dogs during his foster period. Walking in town was a challenge. If a bus or truck passed by, or if 17 heard a loud noise, he would try to get back to the house. Walking him with our confident, adult dogs Rumble and Charlie, as well as bringing food along, helped 17 learn to walk in town without fear. At first, 17 was also hesitant to use the stairs leading up to our home. After a few weeks of eating breakfast on the steps, he overcame his fear.
17 is an avid swimmer, which we discovered when we took him to the beach—I could hardly hold onto his leash when he saw the water. Wearing a life jacket, 17 will fetch a ball over and over in the ocean. He's also enjoying agility classes. We also do a sport called lure coursing, which he took to right away. He has competed in Coursing Ability Tests and earned his first title in May.
A lot of people ask us why his name is 17. When we first took him home, his paperwork said #17/Arthur, meaning 17 of the 47 dogs in the case. “17” stuck and it is perfect because people always ask about it, which gives us an opportunity to educate people that great dogs really can come from cases of cruelty and neglect. No one forgets his name, either.
We’d like to thank the ASPCA for the great work they do and the opportunity they give animals like 17 every day in their work.
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.