It was a bitterly cold day in Kalamazoo, Michigan, yesterday when HSUS experts and local law enforcement authorities arrived at the property of a previously convicted dogfighter, Kelvin Eric Thomas. The HSUS was instrumental in Thomas’s arrest just three years back, rescuing 32 dogs from his property. This time round, Kalamazoo law enforcement officials found dogfighting paraphernalia and 10 dogs— seven pitbull-type dogs and three Doberman pinschers – freezing in inadequate, barrel-type homes sitting on snow-covered ground, and whelping pens. The dogs were underweight, shaking in the cold, and without access to fresh water.
“The dogs were on the same chains and even the same whelping pens that we rescued dogs from in 2012,” said Janette Reever, manager of animal fighting rescue at The HSUS, who was on the scene to provide her expertise and who also assisted with the previous rescue on Thomas’s property.
After his first arrest, Thomas had pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing fighting dogs and equipment and was sentenced to complete 160 hours of community service. He was also ordered to not own or possess dogs or dogfighting equipment on his property for two years. He had not heeded the message. But if Thomas thought his life of crime would go unnoticed, he had another thing coming.
Kalamazoo law enforcement officers who arrested him yesterday had gone through The HSUS’s Animal Cruelty & Fighting Investigations training, which provided them with invaluable information to identify and investigate the dogfighting operation, and to make their case against him. The training is provided free to law enforcement officers investigating dogfighting, cockfighting, and other animal cruelty crimes, and thousands of officers nationwide have attended workshops where they learn, among other things, how to investigate a cruelty complaint, how to collect evidence, and how to apply local and state laws on animal cruelty.
Thomas now faces a new, more stern legal environment since his arrest. Two years ago, The HSUS worked to upgrade the state’s anti-dogfighting law to make it among the toughest in the nation. Given his rap sheet, and the new tough standards in the law, Thomas is unlikely to stage a third act of dogfighting ever again.
Because the FBI has started tracking animal abuse since Thomas was last arrested, the agency will now have a record of his crimes. Even if he moves, once he’s done with a likely prison term, there will be an electronic record of his misdeeds.
Meanwhile, the dogs seized from Thomas have been taken to the Kalamazoo County Animal Services and Enforcement shelter where they will be vetted and cared for. Dr. Pamela Graves, a Michigan member of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, assisted at the scene with evidence collection and examining the dogs.
Jill Fritz, our Michigan senior state director, was also at the scene. She recalls how the dogs reacted when they saw their rescuers, as if they knew help had finally arrived. “All of the dogs were very friendly and wagged their tails excitedly when we approached them, and clearly welcomed any affection,” Jill said.
The Michigan legislature is now considering HB 4765 which would allow the adoption of dogs seized from fighting cases. The dogs did nothing to invite their fate, and they deserve a second chance. So far so good on the bill; it’s passed the House Criminal Justice Committee and is awaiting action on the House floor.