Five Years After Vick, Dogfighting Still Has Bite

PHOTO: Dogs stand chained before being taken away by Humane Society officials in St. Louis. The dogs were among 350 mostly American Pit Bull Terrier dogs seized during raids in five states.
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In abandoned buildings, rural homes and apartments, groups of people gather and place bets on the winning fighter. But these fighters are not trained boxers or mixed martial artists; they are dogs, bred to fight each other in the ring.

Five years after NFL quarterback Michael Vick unintentionally shed a national spotlight on dogfighting, the centuries-old practice hasn't disappeared, with one of the most recent dogfighting busts taking place this week in Richland Parish, La. Police there arrested a man they found on a property containing eight dogs and a puppy, as well as makeshift dog pens, chains and dog remains, according to a local newspaper report.

Those involved in dogfighting aren't just motivated by financial gain from gambling on fights -- where bets are worth as much as $20,000 or $30,000 -- but also by the money made from breeding, raising and training these prize dogs.

"There is a high premium for dogfighting blood lines," said Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of ASPCA forensic sciences and anti-cruelty projects and one of the leading dogfighting experts in the country.

The ASPCA estimates that the number of people participating in dogfighting each year is well within the tens of thousands. Nearly 9 percent of animal abuse reports are for dogfighting or suspicion of dogfighting, according to petabuse.com, an online database of animal cruelty cases.

The largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history happened in 2009 across eight states. It resulted in more than 100 arrests and the seizure of more than 500 dogs in one day. More recently, a 2011 raid in Halifax, Va., led to the rescue of dozens of dogs.

Arguably, the most notorious dogfighting case was Vick's 2007 arrest. Vick, then a quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, was sentenced to nearly two years in prison for his involvement in "Bad Newz Kennels," an interstate ring that routinely killed pit bulls. After being released in 2009, Vick returned to football as a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles and has since teamed up with the Humane Society to speak out against dogfighting.

Lockwood, of the ASPCA, worked on the Vick investigation. He said high-profile cases like Vick's can actually help efforts to crack down on underground dog fights.

"Public concern and awareness is on the rise," he said.

That awareness, he added, leads to more tips for law enforcement to respond to and investigate, ultimately shutting down dogfighting rings.

Law enforcement officials and community leaders in some areas are using special dogfighting kits provided by the ASPCA to strengthen efforts to discover and stop dogfighting. Lockwood said that average citizens can help by notifying police when they suspect fights in their neighborhoods. Check out more suggestions on how to stop dogfighting from the ASPCA.

This week, "What Would You Do?" tackles the question of what your average person would do when faced with evidence of dogfighting. Watch the scenario unfold Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

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