In my role as president and CEO of The HSUS, I regularly see the best and worst of humanity. That was never more true than on Friday, as I participated in a rescue of dogs from an alleged dogfighter in southern Alabama. Federal and state law enforcement, along with The HSUS, the ASPCA, and other local and national animal welfare groups, assembled for a major multi-state operation on Friday in cracking down on a network of alleged dogfighting operations in the South. Specifically, the FBI arrested alleged dogfighters in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, seizing dogs in 13 locations in Alabama and Georgia.
One of the rescued dogs receives attention at the
emergency shelter. photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS
My colleague Chris Schindler is speaking for The HSUS at a press conference in Montgomery, Alabama today, organized by the U.S. Attorney based there, to report on the events of the last few days. I'd like to report to you on what I saw.
Many of the alleged dogfighters targeted in this anti-dogfighting operation had been known to each by gathering at fights throughout the Southeast. Their arrests did not occur at fighting pits, but at their homes, where they maintained “dog yards,” with pit bull type dogs on short, heavy metal chains staked into the ground, with minimal protection from the searing heat.
At the yard I was assigned, our HSUS team pulled 20 dogs, while five other HSUS teams fanned out to cover yards in that state and in two others. Despite being neglected and kept in substandard conditions, these dogs were friendly and very happy to see us. They welcomed the food, water, veterinary care, and love that we provided. Many of them were emaciated. Several had scars on their faces and forelimbs. Our teams also discovered supplements and other standard items found at dogfighting operations.
The dogs are now recovering at undisclosed locations. You, along with other caring people, have made that possible. It’s through your support that we can conduct long-term investigations like this one, deploy dozens of key personnel for rescues, and then handle and care for dogs for weeks or months on end.
A three-year investigation of these alleged dogfighters led to Friday’s series of interventions. Police in Auburn, Alabama started the investigation, with HSUS experts participating every step of the way, though the case was ultimately led by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. All told, there were 367 dogs rescued on Friday in what is thought to be the second largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history (the biggest one was an 8-state operation centered in Missouri that HSUS also participated in that resulted in the seizure of more than 500 dogs).
Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dogfighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dogfighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution, under the provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law that The HSUS worked with federal lawmakers to upgrade in 2002, 2007, and 2008. We are working with lawmakers on an additional upgrade this year, to penalize spectators at animal fights, and both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill contain the reforms we’re seeking to secure.
I vowed that when we upgraded the federal law, we would do everything in our power to ensure its enforcement. That’s exactly what we did on Friday. We are grateful to the committed men and women in federal and state law enforcement who helped make this happen. And we are grateful for the labors of our peer organizations in animal protection for providing such meaningful help in a complex, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional enterprise.
If dogfighters think they’ll evade the attention of law enforcement personnel, they are mistaken. The U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, with these actions, has indicated that he won’t tolerate this crime and cruelty, and neither will the FBI.
We are committed to eradicating dogfighting in every dark corner where it festers. This series of raids should remind dogfighters everywhere that they are not beyond the reach of law and their day of reckoning will come.