In April I passed on word of The HSUS’s new Mobile Animal Crimes Lab, equipped with the latest forensic gear to help law enforcement process crime scenes involving animal cruelty or fighting. Last week, our mobile lab was on the scene of a dogfighting raid in Hampton, Va., used for evidence identification and documentation after the arrest of two men and the seizure of dogs and suspected dogfighting paraphernalia. Chris Schindler, our manager of animal fighting law enforcement, assisted in the investigation that led to the raid, and I asked him to prepare this guest post. Be sure, also, to watch this video from the scene.
From the beginning of this case I couldn’t help but think about “Elvis” and his lifetime of violence and suffering. The HSUS tracks the dogfighting industry and the most sought-after dogs of this illegal underground world. We knew Elvis as a beautiful brown and white dog, and a likely victim of the Virginia dogfighting operation being raided. But to dogfighters, Elvis was nothing more than a money-making machine for breeding more fighting dogs. Elvis was very valuable to dogfighters because he was a “champion,” meaning he won three consecutive contract matches. Used to breed more fighting dogs, Elvis had been hidden away in Virginia for more than 10 years, likely at the end of a chain or forgotten in a cage.
Last week, our team assisted in rescuing Elvis and four other dogs from the underground world of dogfighting. The raid was a coordinated effort with Hampton Animal Control, the Hampton Police department and The HSUS—the result of an undercover sting on two individuals who were in the business of selling dogs to dogfighters. Little did they know the men who they thought showed up to purchase dogs were in fact undercover officers, ultimately leading to both individuals being taken into custody and each charged with three felony counts of dogfighting under Virginia's recently upgraded law.
After the raid I entered the property, not knowing if Elvis would be there. It was difficult to think about the possibility of not finding this old man who had been through so much. But hidden in a junk-filled damp garage, in a small metal cage, was a dog waiting for our rescue. I immediately recognized him—it was Elvis.
As soon as I opened the cage he came out and lay in my lap, licked my face and looked up at me almost as if he knew today was his last day of suffering. It broke my heart that this beautiful dog who had been through so much had such a sweet soul and could be so forgiving.
Elvis will be professionally evaluated to determine if he is a suitable candidate for adoption. But one thing is certain: This champion will never know the cruel hands of dogfighting again.