On July 8, 2009, the ASPCA participated in a multi-state dog fighting raid, the largest federal crackdown on dog fighting in U.S. history, resulting in the rescue of over 400 dogs, most of whom are Pit Bulls. The eight-state raid, launched by federal and local agencies, spanned Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi and resulted in a total of 26 arrests.
According to Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty Field Services, who was on-site in Missouri, not all dogs seized in the raid were used directly in fights. “Some were breeders. They did not fight, but produced litters of fresh fighters. Others were bait dogs. They lacked bloodlust and so served as punching bags in training fights. Such dogs often get the worst of it.” As Dr. Lockwood noted, "At the very least, we're honoring these animals by caring for them.”
The dogs were transported to a secure St. Louis facility under the direction of the Animal Cruelty Task Force of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO). Each dog was examined by a veterinarian and received an individual medical plan. The dogs suffered from numerous wounds and scars. One was missing lips, others had missing limbs, and many had internal parasites, ear infections and broken or missing teeth.
A team of pet behavior experts, including HSMO behavior staff, Dr. Lockwood and other ASPCA experts, has also evaluated each dog to determine suitability for possible placement with qualified rescue groups or experienced adopters. A complete veterinary and behavior report for each dog was submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is responsible for providing information to the courts for the final determination for each animal.
The ASPCA was also accountable for the collection of all forensic evidence on site. The evidence is currently being used to aid prosecutors in bringing to justice those involved. Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation’s premier forensic veterinarian, was on the scene with the ASPCA Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit, a critical tool in the collection and processing of evidence at crime scenes. The CSI Unit brings state-of-the-art forensics tools and expertise to crime scenes and is outfitted with medical equipment tailored for animal patients.
"The ASPCA is proud to have had its expert staff be a part of this important case," said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres. "These dogs suffered terribly at the hands of dog fighters, and our hope is that the evidence collected will help bring justice for all of these animals."
Known as the “Missouri 500,” the rescued pups have since been placed in loving homes or with sanctuaries equipped to meet their special needs.
Since the raid, all 27 defendants from the original 27 federal arrests have been sentenced.
“Even two years after the bust, the convictions keep coming,” says ASPCA Animal Fighting Specialist Terry Mills, who took part in the operation. In total, 103 arrests have made in conjunction with the raid—40 on federal charges and 63 on state charges.
“In the federal system, the recommended time for dog fighting is only probation to six months,” explains Mills. “Most of the federal judges in these cases are viewing that range as inadequate—sentencing has gone as high as 33 months in federal prison.”
Most recently, in Missouri state court, four more defendants in the case received jail time for dog fighting and other charges. Two are required to serve at least 10 years in prison, while one is required to serve eight.
The ASPCA expects further state-level sentences as more cases related to the eight-state raid move forward.
To learn more about dog fighting, please visit our section on Blood Sports.
Meet the Survivors
One-year-old Jakob now lives in California, where he has worked with Our Pack, Inc., Pit Bull Rescue to be trained as a therapy dog for hospital patients, residents of retirement homes and school children.
“The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is temperament, and as we know, Pit Bulls have loving, affectionate natures that often make them perfect for this kind of job," said Marthina McClay, Founder of Our Pack, Inc.
Meet Fae, whose face was disfigured after losing her lips as the result of a dog fight. After working with St. Louis rescue group Mutts-n-Stuff, Fae is getting ready to start classes for the Canine Good Citizen® tests. Fae has undergone reconstructive surgery and, with her inspiring story, she will make a wonderful ambassador for overcoming the cruelty of dog fighting.
“It’s amazing to watch her discover new things and receive love for the first time,” says Mutts-n-Stuff founder Gale Frey. “Fae is a sweet dog who loves nothing more than to be around people!”
UPDATE: In a tragic twist of fate, Fae passed away on December 30, 2009, after undergoing her third round of reconstructive surgery. The ASPCA conveys our deepest condolences to Gale, the staff of Mutts-n-Stuff, and to everyone who was touched by Fae's tragic, yet deeply moving, story.
Darmah lost part of her left front leg as a result of being forced to fight. She is now working to become an ambassador to children who have experienced similar losses. Darmah is living in her new forever home in Chicago, where her new pet parent hopes to work with her at the Shriners Hospital for Children.