Mike Roach of the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, who helps police bust dogfighting rings and educates students about the issue, said that dogfighting breeders are largely unlicensed street fighters or gang members, professionals, and hobbyists.
He said that street fighters in particular try to promote their image and status through the dog, and are attracted to the profitable gambling and breeding aspect of the sport. While many rings originate in inner cities, Roach said that they often move out into more rural areas where there is more space for larger crowds and more lax law enforcement.
Though motives for engaging in the sport might differ, the social impact on the local community can be troublesome.
"They make people prisoners in their own communities," Roach said, noting that people are afraid to even walk outside to let their pets out to play in the backyard.
In addition to these aggressive dogs that often can't distinguish between another dog and a small child, the game breeds a subculture where illegal gambling, drug use and guns are common.
Young child spectators can grow up insensitive to animal cruelty, enthusiastic about violence, and disrespectful of the law, reported the National Humane Society. Roach said a survey of Chicago middle schoolers showed that 38-40 percent of the third to sixth graders had witnessed a dogfight. Even teenage girls are lured to the crowds where they hope to meet young men, he said.
Congress recently passed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which provides for a three-year jail sentence and fines of up to $250,000 for interstate animal fighting, according to Massachusetts veterinarian and author Nicholas Dodman.
But state laws vary, and the crime is only a misdemeanor in some states like Wyoming and Idaho.
In other states like Georgia, the law requires that police catch dogfighters in the act before they can make an arrest, making the prosecution of these crimes difficult and long, said Smith of the Humane Society. Experts said that fines and low jail times are just a slap on the wrist, and are written off as a minor cost of the highly lucrative industry.
Advocates and veterinarians alike agree that there is room for stricter and more consistent state laws against dogfighting, and a growing need for widespread education campaigns to combat this deadly pastime.
"While it's regrettable that it takes an Atlanta Falcons football star to draw national attention to the issue, we are hoping that the NFL and others will use this as an opportunity to show their support, change the law, and give these innocent animals a voice," said the Atlanta Humane Society.