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VACTF Manual: Chapter 5 - Special Cases

Dog-Fighting

Overview

There are several aspects of dog fighting about which you may receive complaints:

  • Pit bull "hotels" - between fights, dogs used for fighting are sometimes harbored in abandoned buildings. You may receive a complaint about dogs barking in an abandoned building or shed, or you may receive a tip from a former member of the ring who feels that he has been cheated.

  • Organized dog fighting ring - you may receive a complaint that dog fighting is going on in a certain location. Often these complaints may come from a former participant who got "burned" by the ring and became an informant.

  • Unorganized fighting - you may receive complaints from neighbors about an injured dog, or a complaint from a veterinarian that a dog has come in with an ear chewed off and numerous scars, or you may receive a complaint that states, "Every Friday night I hear dogs fighting down in the alley behind my house."

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has worked extensively with law enforcement agencies to break up illegal dog fighting rings. The HSUS can be used as a resource for law enforcement agencies investigating dogfighting. (See pg 273 in Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Dogfighting Questions and Answers, and pg 208 in Appendix II, Resource Agencies, "The HSUS".

Investigating Pit Bull "Hotels"

These may have fighting dogs chained to walls in separate rooms of an abandoned building; they may also be kept chained to the walls of a shed or garage. (In rural areas, fighting dogs may be kept chained to dog houses, next to the person's house.)

Things to be aware of when investigating:

CAUTION: When you investigate a complaint about dogs in an abandoned building, handle such investigations with great care. BE AWARE OF BOOBY TRAPS, such as cut-away stairs, cut-away floors, razor blades imbedded in stair banisters, etc. Also, be aware that an attack dog may be roaming the premises. The dog may have had his voice box and nails removed, and thus not be heard. When you come through the door, he may lunge.

The condition of the dogs
- Normally missing pieces of their ears, an eye, toes; current bite marks or scars around necks, shoulders, and legs. Ears and tails may be cut down or cut off.

  • Generally you will find pit bulls, sometimes Akitas and Rottweilers.

  • Presence of paraphernalia:

    • Pry bars/bite sticks/breaking sticks - pieces of plastic or wood of varying length, thin at one end and wider at the other. Used to pry open the jaws of a dog that has a death grip upon another dog.

    • Chains, ropes, or spring-poles hanging from beams with various items attached to them (such as tires, or live/dead cats or puppies in burlap bags). The dog "locks on" to the items with his jaws and hangs there for long periods, which builds strength in the jaw and neck muscles.


  • Cats and puppies that are injured or dead from having been used as bait and mauled by dogs.

  • Various sized weights attached to dog's collar or heavy chains and padlocks around the neck, worn to develop strength in neck muscles.

  • Large bottles of various vitamins, such as Vitamin K, or steroids. The bottles may say "For Cattle Use Only".

  • Saline solutions in plastic bags. These are used to rehydrate dogs' bodies after strenuous activities.

  • Various vials, may contain medications and Vitamin E solution, etc. Short needles and syringes.

  • Surgical needles shaped like fish hooks to suture the wounds after a fight.

  • Treadmills (similar to those in a gym) to build strength and stamina in a dog.

What to do

When investigating the complaint, and with the assistance of a law enforcement officer, consider doing the following:

  1. If the door to the abandoned building is loosely chained, and you can see dogs in immediate need of medical attention, call the animal control officer or local humane society for assistance. Based on exigent circumstances (See also pg 10 in Chapter 1, Be Prepared Ahead of Time, "Key Concepts: Exigent Circumstances and Plain View Doctrine"), break the chain, and have the dogs removed.

  2. If the door is locked, and the property appears to be abandoned, contact the owner about a key to the building, if possible. In a large city, you can call the housing authority. Ask the owner or housing authority to accompany you to the building, along with the animal control officer or local humane society. Unlock the door and have the dogs removed.

  3. If the door is locked, and you are unable to obtain a key, obtain a search warrant based on your evidence, call the animal control officer or local humane society to accompany you. Enter the property and have the dogs removed. Seize related paraphernalia.

    NOTE: If you believe that there are dogs in the building, and you have to leave to find the owner or obtain a search warrant, ensure that you leave an officer there to guard the building so the animals are not removed while you are gone.

  4. In all cases, take photos (and if possible, video) of the dogs and the conditions in which they were kept (see also pg 7, Chapter 1, Be Prepared, "Photographic Evidence" and pg 266, Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Ten Top Tips for Good Photography, Videography).

  5. Have the dogs examined by a veterinarian and obtain a sworn statement from him indicating that the dogs were used for fighting. Take photographs of any injuries.

  6. If the dogs do not need to be euthanized, have the animal shelter hold them as "dangerous dogs" until you complete your investigation.

    NOTE: Extreme security measures should be in place to house these animals, since they are in danger of being stolen. Staff should also be aware that fighting animals can be dangerous to house and handle, and extreme caution should always be used.

  7. The shelter is not to release the animals, but ask the staff to obtain as much information as possible about any individuals who attempt to claim the dogs, such as their license plate number, name of their veterinarian, etc.

Investigating Organized Dog Fighting Ring

Information on this type of activity generally comes from disgruntled participants.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

Investigating this type of dog fighting requires undercover work, which can be lengthy. It is extremely difficult to go undercover and get involved in an organized, dog fighting ring - it is very tightly knit.

What to do

Be sure your informant is reliable. Based on the information provided, consider the following approach:

  1. Do surveillance and determine the night of the fight.

  2. Obtain a search warrant and coordinate your effort with the local humane agency.

  3. Cover all exits, enter the premises, and arrest the participants and bystanders.

  4. Be sure all parties who are involved in the raid wear either uniforms, hats, or jackets to separate themselves from the participants, in case weapons must be used. Ensure that everyone knows who the undercover person is.

  5. Take photos of the scene and record it with a video camera, if possible. A video camera will capture the suffering involved in the event.

  6. Have the animals removed to a secure animal shelter.

  7. Have a veterinarian examine the dogs and obtain a signed statement indicating that the dogs were used for fighting.

  8. Take photographs of the dogs and detailed photos of any wounds.

  9. If possible, have the animals held as "dangerous dogs" until your investigation is completed.

  10. The shelter is not to release the animals, but ask the staff to obtain as much information as possible about any individuals who attempt to claim the dogs, such as their license plate number, name of their veterinarian, etc.

CAUTION: Ensure that you have support and assistance. Be aware that the organizers may turn the dogs on you and attempt to flee. Be prepared for this.

Investigating Unorganized Dog Fighting - "Street Fighting"

This involves individuals "street fighting" their dogs in back alleys or make-shift dog rings. The majority of complaints you will receive will be of the "street fighting" variety.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

IMPORTANT: The defendants will most likely tell you that they were engaged in a conversation, and their two dogs got into a fight. If that were the case, the defendants should have been trying to break it up. Your report must state that the dogs were engaged in fighting, and the defendants were not trying to break it up. The arrest may be based entirely on your observations, so it is important to make this point.

What to do

When investigating the complaint, consider the following approaches:

  1. Interview neighbors or known informants to determine when and where the street fights are normally held. Conduct surveillance to verify the place and time.

  2. On the specified night, arrange to be there in adequate force, along with the dog control officer and humane society. Prepare for the possibility that the dogs may be fighting and will need to be tranquilized.

  3. Arrest the persons involved and have the dogs removed to a veterinarian or the shelter.

    CAUTION: Be aware that the participants may turn the dogs on you and flee. Be prepared for this.

  4. Take photos of the scene and record it with a video camera, if possible. A video camera will capture the suffering involved in the event.

  5. Have the animals removed to a secure animal shelter.

  6. Have a veterinarian examine the dogs and obtain a signed statement indicating that the dogs were used for fighting.

  7. Take photographs of the dogs and detailed photos of any wounds.

  8. If possible, have the animals held as "dangerous dogs" until your investigation is completed.

Dog Fighting Examples

[photos coming soon]

Example 10 - Unorganized Dog Fighting (Street Fighting)

The Complaint
A humane agent encountered two individuals fighting their dogs on a city street.

The Response

  1. With the assistance of a law enforcement officer, the investigator had the two people arrested and taken to the police station.

  2. The investigator carefully documented that the dogs were fighting and the owners were making no effort to break up the fight.

  3. The investigator took the seized dogs to the animal shelter and had them examined by a veterinarian. The veterinarian provided a signed statement indicating that the wounds on the dogs indicated that they had been fighting.

  4. He took photographs of the two dogs indicating the wounds they had sustained.

Charges Brought
An offense committed under subdivisions 352(5) and (6) of Title 13 can be prosecuted as a felony (up to 5 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to $5,000 or both) if the person (5) "owns, possesses, keeps or trains an animal engaged in an exhibition of fighting, or possesses, keeps or trains any animal with the intent that it be engaged in an exhibition of fighting, or permits any such act to be on premises under his or her charge or control; or (6) "acts as a judge or spectator at events of animal fighting or bets or wagers on the outcome of such fight."

Example 11 - Training Dogs for Fighting

The Complaint
A complainant called the state police and reported that she saw six pit bulls chained to dog houses on the property across from her residence. At various times, she also saw the dogs hanging by their teeth from a rope tied to a tree. Other reports from neighbors verified what the complainant had said.

The Response

  • Based on the information contained in the complaints, a state police investigator was sent undercover to investigate the situation. His observations confirmed that dogs were being training for dog fighting.

  • The state police applied for a search warrant.

  • They contacted humane agencies to see which could house dangerous fighting dogs for them.

  • The state police, along with the humane agencies, went to the property.

  • The state police executed the search warrant. They seized the animals, videotaped and took photographs of the scene and the individual animals, and arrested the individuals involved.

  • The humane agencies removed the animals from the premises.

  • They were later examined by a veterinarian who provided a signed statement as to their condition.

Charges Brought
The individuals involved were charged with a violation of Title 13, Section 352.

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