Federal and state investigators announced Monday they had rescued 367 pit bull terriers and made 10 arrests in the Southeast, in what is believed to be the second-largest raid on dog fighting in U.S. history.
The suspects were dealt a 30 count indictment on Friday for allegedly running a dog fighting ring between 2009 and 2013. The indictment charged them with promoting and sponsoring dog fights, owning, selling dogs involved in dog fighting, as well as conspiracy charges, according to a statement by the office of U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama George Beck.
When law enforcement officials executed 11 search warrants in Alabama and two in Georgia, they discovered 367 pit bull terriers that appeared to have been in multiple fights, as well as guns, illegal narcotics, and drugs used to train and treat dogs. Some of the properties contained the remains of dead animals that had allegedly fought.
"I believe if Dante [Alighieri] were alive today and rewriting the 'Inferno' that the lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who commit cruelty to our animals and to our children," said Beck at a news conference on Monday.
According to Beck, the suspects were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 per dog fight. Officials seized more than $500,000 in gambling proceeds from the fights. Ten suspects were arrested – seven from Alabama, one from Georgia, one from Texas and one from Mississippi.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States assisted in seizing the dogs by managing their removal and their transportation to temporary emergency shelters in undisclosed locations, according to an ASPCA statement.
A large number of the dogs appeared to be thin and weak, according to the statement. The majority of the 114 dogs found in one yard were tethered to heavy chains outdoors in 90 degree heat with no access to fresh water or food. Many were sheltered in makeshift houses from plastic, metal and wooden scraps.
The arrests culminate a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police Department in Alabama. If convicted, the suspects could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution. The Associated Press reported court-appointed attorneys for the suspects said they plan to plead not guilty on Wednesday at an arraignment.
"We are committing to eradicating dog fighting in every dark corner where it festers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS in a statement. "This series of raids reminds every dogfighter that they are not beyond the law and their day of reckoning will come."
Dog fighting is considered a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, was reintroduced to Congress. The bill would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional fines for bringing a minor to such an event. It has been in a committee since April.
In July 2009, law enforcement officials executed the largest dog fighting crackdown in U.S. history, resulting in the rescue of more than 500 dogs and more than 100 arrests in an eight-state raid spanning Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi.