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July 09, 2009

Eight-State Dogfighting Raid Largest in U.S. History

When The HSUS decided a number of years ago to put major resources into a campaign to eradicate organized animal fighting, I wanted there to be no gaps or loopholes in the law, to encourage law enforcement to treat this conduct as a serious crime, and to establish a zero tolerance policy for the activity. And I also wanted dogfighters and cockfighters to be looking over their shoulders—wondering if they’d be next in line for arrest and prosecution.

Pit bull at June 2009 dogfighting raid in Alabama
© The HSUS/Sisneros
At a dogfighting raid in June.

After the law enforcement interventions that occurred yesterday in eight states throughout the nation, there can be no doubt that the criminals at the center of every organized dogfighting ring are now looking over their shoulders. Four United States Attorneys and a bevy of federal law enforcement agencies, along with The HSUS, The Humane Society of Missouri, and the ASPCA, raided multiple dogfighting operations, and seized at least 450 dogs, in what was the largest single day of actions against dogfighting in American history.

I have two reports below from our people who helped lead the action in the field. Due to confidentiality constraints we can’t include many details, but we’ll share more information as it becomes available.

From Scotlund Haisley, senior director of Emergency Services, who was stationed in Missouri:

When our crew woke up yesterday before day break I knew the task before us was unprecedented, and that the day’s work would change the face of dogfighting forever. Nothing in our 50-year campaign against animal fighting—or in any other organization’s fight against the cruel industry—has ever sent as strong a message as this record-breaking enforcement and rescue operation.

For many of us the operation began months ago, but early this week members of our animal fighting, emergency services, communications, and video and investigations departments gathered to provide support and equipment necessary to undertake this historic rescue. Because of the scope of this unique rescue, confidentiality was crucial to our success, and as recently as yesterday morning many staff and volunteers were still in the dark on the details of our impending mission.

After a morning briefing meeting four teams fanned out across Missouri, while we also acted as the lead animal welfare agency on rescues conducted in Texas and Oklahoma, and similar raids went down in Illinois, Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi and Nebraska.

After months of coordination and preparation, the sweet release of relief is finally beginning to wash over our exhausted team. This feeling is ushered in by the comforting sight of dogs being settled in at the emergency shelter. Knowing that without our intervention these same animals would have faced a future of untold horrors is my ultimate reward. Tonight I can truly celebrate a belated Independence Day, as I contemplate the 450 lives that have been saved from the clutches of the dogfighting industry.

By shutting down these operations we have saved untold generations of fighting dogs the pain and misery of being bred only to quench the blood lust of those involved in this hideous industry.

From Chris Schindler, deputy manager of our Animal Cruelty & Fighting Campaign, who was stationed in Texas:

You’d never guess that in Texas, amid farm houses and well-kept estates, laid a hidden world of animal suffering. Yet behind the palatial exterior of an alleged dogfighter’s countryside home, my colleagues and I, along with federal agents, found the unmistakable horror of a dogfighting operation.

At every dogfighting raid, there’s always one dog whose face stays with me long after the day is done. Again yesterday, one dog broke my heart. Right now law enforcement authorities have asked us not to talk about details, but when we can I’ll share this story with you.

As we made our way from dog to dog, taking photographs, completing veterinary checks, and documenting scars and wounds—all evidence for the prosecution—it seemed the dogs wanted only a kind hand, freedom from pain, and, most of all, companionship.

It’s one thing to read about the horrors of dogfighting, but it’s another to witness the sheer disdain and antipathy of dogfighters towards man’s best friend, to put individual faces to the suffering. Those tormented faces continue to haunt me daily, reminding me of the worst parts of human nature.

At the same time, these faces urge me to forge ahead against what once felt like a problem with no solution. I know that the goal of eradicating organized dogfighting from the U.S. now lies well within our reach.

Thanks to the immense efforts of so many people, we have devastated the dogfighting network in the Midwest and beyond.

If you'd like to support our campaign against animal fighting with a special gift today, you can do so here.

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