CAS aids in largest dog-fighting ring bust in South's history

Photo courtesy: ASPCA

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A multi-state investigation resulted in the rescue of 367 dogs from what officials are calling the largest dog-fighting ring in the South and the second largest in the nation.

According to Charleston Animal Society officials, they sent local staff members to assist the United States Attorney's Office, the ASPCA, HUmane Society and other organizations from other states in the investigation and rescue.

An anti-cruelty outreach manager with CAS was called in for the raid. He helped cut the chains on the dogs, pull spikes out of the ground, and collect forensic evidence. However, he mostly worked on the dogs' medical needs.

Responders helped with the removal and transport of the dogs to temporary emergency shelters. They are also providing veterinary care and behavior enrichment for the dogs and will help collect evidence for prosecution.

The case ran for three years and involved 13 search warrants in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.

ASPCA officials report 10 suspects were indicted on felony dog fighting charges and more than $500,000 in cash was seized along with firearms and drugs.

"These defendants were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 on one dog fight," stated U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. "The number of dogs seized and the amount of money involved this in case shows how extensive this underworld of dog fighting is.{} These dog fighters abuse, starve and kill their dogs for the supposed 'fun' of watching and gambling on a dog fight.{} Their behavior is deplorable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished to the full extent of the law."

Also seized were the dogs, ranging in age from several days old to 12 years. The bodies of dead dogs were also found.

"The sheer number of dogs seized speaks volumes as to the inhumane and violent abuse of animals associated with the illegal practices of drug activity afflicting our communities," stated Stephen Richardson, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Mobile Division.

If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, and possible fines and restitution.

"Today we ended the torture of hundreds of abused and neglected dogs," said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. "Never again will these dogs be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of the bare necessities. The ASPCA is extremely grateful to federal and local authorities who pursued this widespread investigation for so long, and we are happy to lend our assistance."

The dogs were reportedly found in make-shift shelters with no sign of food or water. Officials said many of them appeared emaciated and had injuries consistent with dog fighting.

"We are committing to eradicating dog fighting in every dark corner where it festers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "This series of raids reminds every dogfighter that they are not beyond the law and their day of reckoning will come."

"Dog fighting is a horrific form of abuse and a highly organized crime that exploits animals for entertainment and financial gain," said Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team. "Thousands of others all over the country continue to endure unimaginable suffering and death just like this at the hands of dog fighters. We want to end it once and for all."

The U.S. District Attorney will decide what the next course of action is for the dogs which are about 95 percent of the evidence in this case so they will be under federal custody until behavior assessments can determine where they will go next.

CAS officials say many of the dogs will likely go to the University of Florida where a veterinary college and the ASPCA's anti-cruelty program is located.