Friday, July 20, 2007
Dog fighting is a fight between game dogs, involving the actual pitting of two dogs against each other in a pit or a ring to fight for the entertainment of the spectators, and for the purpose of gambling. In addition, respected dogs generate income for their owners from stud fees. It is commonly considered a blood sport, as the dogs literally bite and rip the flesh off of one another while the onlookers root and place bets on which dog will win the match. Dog fighting is illegal in most countries and has been linked to organized crime and gangs.
After the fight, both dogs are usually critically wounded, often with massive bleeding, ruptured lungs, broken bones, and other life-threatening injuries. Generally, the loser of a match dies or is killed, unless he has any salvage value to his owner. When dogs are killed after a match, they are often shot and not euthanized. The animals that survive generally never see a veterinarian.
Dog fighting in the United States has become a major focus of law enforcement efforts and prosecutions in the 21st century, driven by animal rights activists, an increasing awareness of the links to violent crimes and narcotics trafficking, and a new federal law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2007 providing felony sanctions including multi-year prison time and large fines for convictions of interstate dog fighting activities.
Dog Fighting Detailed
Dog Fighting GAME DOGS
For more than a century, humans have trained dogs to give their all in staged fights. Why are animal welfare advocates no closer to ending this brutal sport?
The crowd's roar dulled to a hum as the next two fighters appeared. The previous match had been short, as one contestant quickly outmatched his opponent, mauling him badly and tearing off an ear. But this final fight matched two highly respected and feared combatants. They eyed each other warily as their handlers finished corner preparations. Spectators came to the edge of their seats, and fathers lifted children to their shoulders for a better view as the judge stepped to the center, called the dogs to their scratch lines and yelled, "Let 'em go!" A cheer arose as the dogs charged across the pit and violently slammed into each other, teeth flashing as they sought a vulnerable target. The dogs came apart once, when the brindle appeared to give up, and turned for a moment. They were returned to their scratch lines and held. Both dogs were breathing hard and bleeding. "Let 'em go," the judge called again. If the brindle failed to attack now, he would lose. But he was a game dog, and responded to an instinct bred into him over generations and nurtured through training. As the brindle charged across his line, his
opponent's handler released him with the encouragement, "Finish him, Bo." Tired and weakened by his wounds, the brindle was slow to meet Bo's ferocious attacks. Bo grabbed the brindle's right front leg in powerful jaws, bit and twisted. The "snap" of breaking bone was heard as the brindle was flipped onto his back, while Bo sought a better grip on his opponent’s throat. Remarkably, as the judge ordered the handlers to break the dogs, the brindle tried to crawl after
Bo, still intent on fighting. His handler gently wrapped him in
a blanket, saying, "No more, boy. It's over."
This fight could have occurred in any state, in a barn or a city warehouse. The participants could have been Caucasian, African American or Hispanic, and the year could have been 1897 or 1997. Since the 1800's, dog fighting has attracted the attention and admiration of royalty, politicians, doctors, farmers and police officers, as well as the wrath of animal protectionists, who have fought hard to end it. Yet achieving a better understanding of the sport, rather than simply condemning it, must precede any real effort at wiping it out.
The development of the modern sport as practiced in Europe, North and South America can be clearly traced to 1835, when bull-baiting was banned in England. After the ban, the owners of "bulldogs"—used up until then to bait bulls, bears and other animals—turned to staging fights between their dogs to satisfy their blood lust. The largest, heaviest bull dogs were soon crossed with smaller, quicker terriers to produce the "bull terriers" who became the fountainhead of today's prominent fighting breeds. Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bull Terriers all hail from this ancestry. Commonly, dogs who fall into this broad class are identified as pit bulls.
It is important to understand that not just any dog can be trained to fight. Much like herding dogs, trailing dogs and other breeds selected for particular roles, fighting dogs are born ready for the training that will prepare them to succeed in the pit. Staged fights are not the same as the flare-ups seen in dog runs or sometimes among dogs in the same home. Much like the fights among their wolf ancestors, most fights among dogs end quickly, with one individual submitting to the other. The winner typically accepts the submission signal of rolling over, and ends the encounter with no further violence. Subsequent encounters between these two individuals frequently involve no more than a highly stylized ballet of positions and expressions that reconfirm their relationship.
To breed successful fighting dogs, this aspect of their behavior had to be eliminated. Fighting dogs will continue to attack, regardless of the submission signals of an opponent. Similarly, these dogs will continue to fight even though badly injured. Gameness—a dog's willingness or desire to fight—is the most admired trait in fighting dogs. Great attention is paid to sires and dams who are game, and more importantly, are able to pass this quality on to their progeny. In fact, the owner of a grand champion—a dog who has won five contests—can sell the dog's pups for at least $1,500 apiece. The serious dog fighter is as familiar with the bloodlines of dogs as any thoroughbred aficionado is of Triple Crown contenders.
With the high level of aggression that pit bulls may show toward other dogs, it seems a contradiction that they also are described as loyal and gentle companion animals. Pit bulls have appeared as characters in television and film, including Petey of Our Gang. However, these seemingly conflicting characteristics are hallmarks of a well bred-fighting dog. Before each fight, the dogs are washed, frequently by the other dog's handler to ensure that no foreign substances have been placed on the animal to inhibit an opponent from biting and holding. During fights, dogs are in the pit with handlers and the judge, and they are handled during training, feeding and breeding. Unfortunately, an increased level of human-oriented aggression outside the ring is being documented as individuals outside the traditional dog fight culture acquire and breed pit bulls for protection or as a threat. Poor training and poor breeding are increasing.
Through the years, interest in the sport by professionals and the upper classes has been viewed as a tawdry but acceptable pastime—if one didn't advertise it in public. Among the working classes, especially in rural areas, dog fighting was a grand family event. Large conventions—as gatherings with multiple scheduled fights are called—might include a barbecue, music, games for the children and parking security provided by the local sheriff.
This good-natured patina is stripped away quickly in conversation with undercover cruelty investigators. Constantly on guard for their safety, these investigators describe an environment of casual cruelty and easy violence. Defeated dogs are killed and dumped; stolen dogs and cats are used to train fighters and give them their first taste of blood. Suspicious of strangers, handlers make no secret of the treatment they reserve for informants. Yet participants and owners do not consider the sport a brutal one. Successful raids on dog fighting rings typically net a cross section of felons and others with prior arrests for a variety of offenses ranging from murder and assault to drug possession. "Dog fighters represent a range of personality types and psychological disorders," says Stephanie LaFarge, Ph.D., Senior Director, ASPCA Counseling Services. Like anyone, they are molded by their environment and begin to develop a system of values early. "School life offers them little fulfillment and humiliates them into doing socially unacceptable things in an environment where beating the system is the goal."
Many people who are involved in dog fighting have incredible, marketable skills. They are able to calculate nutritional requirements, use medical equipment with the patience and competence of a master surgeon, and prepare a dog with the skill of an accomplished dog trainer. It seems amazing that all too often, this is the same person who has dropped out of school and is unable to meet academic requirements. Take Doc for example, so called because of his knowledge of veterinary medicine. Doc is 15 years old, and people bring their dogs to him after a fight. For a fee, he will dock a dog's ears, neuter him and heal his wounds. Where has society failed Doc? Why is he on the street stitching up fighting dogs rather than focusing on his studies and his future? He will tell you that he makes a lot of money and has earned the respect of his peers. Would he have felt the same level of accomplishment if he followed society's accepted path?
"Self esteem is an important issue with this population," adds Officer Mark MacDonald, ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement special investigator. "Fighting gives them the respect and power that they do not have in other areas of their lives."
"Many fighters come from non-responsive homes and communities with limited social or economic opportunity," he says. "They never acquire the tools to excel. With dog fighting, they are accepted, especially if they have a winning dog. Well known and respected in their circle, they are emulated by others. They gain a tremendous satisfaction and positive reinforcement from their new 'friends.' And because of their commitment to the care and training of their dog, their dog is a winner, and so are they."
Some fighters liken dog fighting to boxing, with the owner as coach and the dog as prize fighter. The owner trains and conditions the dog, pushing him to his limits and thereby providing him with the tools to win, just like a coach would train a boxer.
While some might typify dog fighting as a symptom of urban decay, not every dog fighter is economically disadvantaged. There are people who promote or participate in dog fighting from every community and background. Licensed veterinarians are often well paid to provide care for dogs at fights. Audiences contain lawyers, judges and teachers drawn in by the excitement and thrill. To them, dog fighting is not brutal, it is an art. It's about the ultimate human-animal bond, and they are willing to break the law to participate. Taking the life of another living creature in a fight is the ultimate gift a dog can give them.
A new element has been added to the organized world of dog fighting over the past 15 to 20 years, much to the dismay of "traditional" fighters. More frequently, dog fights are informal, street corner and playground activities. Stripped of the rules and formality of the traditional pit fight, these are spontaneous events triggered by insults, turf invasions or the simple taunt, "My dog can kill yours." Many of these participants lack even a semblance of respect for the animals, forcing them to train wearing heavy chains to build stamina and picking street fights in which they could get seriously hurt. And many of the dogs are bred to be a threat not only to other dogs, but to people as well—with tragic consequences. Professional fighters and dedicated hobbyists decry the techniques and results of these newcomers to the "sport."
Humane societies and law enforcement officials have been fighting long and hard to put an end to dog fighting, but even after raids, arrests and jail time, people who fight are back in the ring. The humane movement needs to step back and take a better look at the social structure of dog fighting. It will be necessary to replace the self-esteem it provides its participants with other means for positive, life-affirming opportunities. To do this, experts in gangs, drug abuse, poverty, education and psychology, as well as law enforcement, are needed to understand and combat dog fighting at each level. Preventing today's youthful spectators from becoming tomorrow's dog fighters is the challenge the humane community faces for the future.
U.S. Dog-Fighting Rings Stealing Pets for "Bait"
For years the Pima County Sheriff's Department found the chewed-up bodies of dead dogs in the Arizona desert. But it wasn't until four years ago that the truth behind the killings emerged: Stolen family pets were being used in bloody training exercises by dog fighting rings.
The problem is not confined to Arizona. Animal-welfare groups and law-enforcement officers say pets throughout the country are frequently nabbed for "bait"—animals used to test another dog's fighting instinct. The "bait" is mauled or killed in the process.
Like all good detectives, Mike Duffey of the Pima County Sheriff's Department pieced together the clues. Four years ago he was assigned to investigate animal crimes full-time.
Duffey knew the dead dogs found in the county's rural areas weren't strays, because the pads of their feet and their nails had not been worn down from a life on the streets. So Duffey checked the lost-and-stolen-animal reports kept by the local humane society.
"We found that a lot of the dogs found in these desert dumping areas were in fact, at one time, [reported] stolen," said Duffey, co-chair of the Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona, an organization made up of law-enforcement, criminal-justice, and animal-protection professionals. "So we began looking for a connection."
That connection was made when the veteran detective found a copy of the American Patriot. The journal, he said, was filled with pictures of fighting pit bulls kept in the very same areas where officers were finding the remains of mauled dogs.
Duffey says a large number of animals are reported lost in Pima County. Within the last six months, 3,396 animals have been reported missing. Of that amount, Duffey estimates 50 percent may have been stolen.
"Animal control has enough people out on patrol, so if [an animal] was truly a stray, they'd encounter it," Duffey said. "But they never turn up as strays; they just turn up as missing. Then somewhere down the line, we find one in the desert that matches the description of four or five that were reported stolen."
In January the sheriff's department began to tally local pets stolen by dog-fighting operations. Officers match the descriptions of animals found dumped in the desert to those reported missing.
National statistics on how many pets are taken each year and used as bait by dog-fighting rings are not available.
"I think every state has a problem with it, whether they know it or not," said Patricia Wagner, head of the National Illegal Animal Fighting Task Force for the Humane Society of the United States.
Wagner said news reports about stolen pets in the U.S. have appeared in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, among other states.
To protect pets from being stolen, owners should care for their animals like they would a four-year-old child says Marsh Myers, director of education and community outreach for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona in Tucson. Both children and pets, he says, have similar levels of curiosity and vulnerability.
"Pet owners need to play that role of parent," Myers said. "We live in a society that has some dangerous people in it, and they will target your pets if they're allowed to."
Small dogs, kittens, and rabbits are more at risk of being stolen for bait, experts say. Pit bulls, though, are commonly targeted by dog fighting rings for potential breeding stock.
In Arizona state representative Ted Downing introduced a bill last month that would make stealing an animal for use in dog fighting a felony with penalties up to two years in jail and fines as high as U.S. $150,000. If the bill becomes state law, Downing says, it could be the first of its kind in the country.
Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 47. Still, law-enforcement officials and animal-care professionals say they've seen a recent increase in the blood sport.
"There's so much of it going on [nationally]," said detective Mike Vadnal, who for 12 years has investigated animal crimes for the Broward Sheriff's Office in Broward County, Florida. "It's out of control."
Last April the alleged publisher of Sporting Dog Journal, which is thought to be the largest underground magazine for the dog-fighting industry, was arrested in New York, according to Vadnal.
Vadnal said the last printed edition of the magazine listed about a thousand fight reports. The fights were by "professionals" who breed and fight animals throughout the country for profit, Vadnal said. There are also other, less organized groups who spar their dogs for bragging rights and quick cash.
In such contests, according to law-enforcement officials, two dogs are placed in a pit or similar area enclosed with plywood walls. They attack each other while crowds of up to 200 people watch and cheer. Bets ranging from U.S. $10,000 to $50,000 are made on fights.
The bloody battle often lasts two hours or more, ending when one dog is no longer able to continue. The breed most often used is the American pit bull terrier. Experts say dogs that survive often die hours, sometimes even days, after the fight—usually of blood loss, shock, or infection.
The practice has been linked to other crimes. In Arizona, for example, Duffey said spectators and dogfight operators are often involved in auto theft, drug dealing, arms smuggling, and money laundering.
The Humane Society of the United States keeps a database of news reports on dog fighting. It estimates 40,000 people are involved in the blood sport and 250,000 pit bulls are used.
The Internet has helped fuel dog fighting by making it easier for criminals to communicate, says Wagner of the Humane Society. At last count there were about 500 message boards and chat rooms devoted to dog fighting, and the number keeps growing, Wagner said.
As dog fighting proliferates, the number of stolen pets has also grown. Whether the two are directly linked is unclear.
Sandy Christiansen, a program coordinator for the Tallahassee, Florida-based Humane Society of the United States, says his office receive reports almost daily from animal shelters around the country about neighborhood pets being nabbed.
But Christiansen, a former animal control investigator in Rochester, New York, says teenagers, not professional dog fighters, may be to blame.
"My experience mostly has been in an urban environment where the dogs that are being stolen are often used by less sophisticated people who are looking for the thrill of watching their dog beat up another dog," Christiansen says.
A Humane Alternative
Concerned by the increasing number of youths involved in dog fighting, former animal control officer Sue Sternberg decide to do something about it.
In 2002, Sternberg started Lug-Nuts, a program that encourages inner-city teens to enter their dogs in weight-pulling contests instead of fights.
"Weight pulling is a very macho sport, and it's incredibly humane," said Sternberg, who now runs a boarding, training, and adoption kennel called Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption in northern New York State.
Owners encourage their pets—harnessed to plastic sleds filled with dog-food bags—to move forward with words of encouragement and tasty treats.
Monthly contests are held in Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park, drawing about 15 entries and a large crowd of onlookers, Sternberg said. Winners receive cash prizes and pet supplies.
Sternberg said the program also encourages owners to neuter and spay their animals and offers to pay for the surgical procedure.
Shelters in the Northeastern U.S. are filled with dangerous dogs, Sternberg said, because teenagers involved in dog fighting are breeding their animals every six months for profit. Some teens are making between U.S. $1,500 and $2,000 each year selling puppies.
Consequently, shelters are filling with pit bulls and pit bull mixes that are not adoptable, because they've been trained to be aggressive toward other animals and sometimes humans.
Sternberg is currently working on a Lug-Nuts training manual and video for animal-care professionals interested in starting the program in their areas.
Dog Eat Dog: The Bloodthirsty Underworld of Dogfighting
In inner city alleys riddled with graffiti, quiet suburban backyards, and isolated barns on dusty country roads, the evidence is there. Scarred pit bulls on painfully short chains, tires designed to strengthen dogs' jaws hung from trees, treadmills to increase endurance, and, most chillingly, pits that hold dogs while they maul each other until one of the animals is unwilling, or unable, to continue.
"Dogfighting is severely cruel. Pit bulls are intensely loyal dogs and dogfighters exploit their positive characteristics to create violent animals," says John Goodwin, deputy manager of Animal Fighting Issues for The HSUS.
Fighting dogs are bred, conditioned and trained to do one thing—win. But no matter what the outcome, every fight has the potential to be a dog's last. Dogs who make it out of the pit alive often receive little or no aftercare for broken bones, deep bite wounds and internal injuries inflicted during fights. "It's not unusual for a dog to die from blood loss or infection afterwards," says Goodwin.
Those who do survive bear the hallmarks of fighting dogs. "These dogs are often riddled with scars from previous battles," says Laura Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana SPCA. "Some bleed to the touch due to deep scarring that never completely heals. Some dogs' broken bones heal over, which causes deformities."
In addition to the extensive injures they sustain, many dogs, once outside the ring, are barely provided with the basics they need to survive—food, water and shelter—and live in extended isolation. "Fighting dogs live on chains their entire lives, only getting off for training or a match," says Maloney.
The dogs aren't the only ones who suffer. It's impossible to estimate how many other animals and humans have been harmed by violent people who are desensitized to brutality, in part as a result of watching or participating in dogfighting and other forms of animal cruelty. "Violence begets violence," Maloney explains. "Research proves that people who abuse animals are more likely to abuse people. In addition, fighting enthusiasts often bring young children to the fights, desensitizing them to violence and teaching them that violence is accepted by society."
The dogs themselves, while victims, can also be extremely dangerous. Bred and conditioned to be animal-aggressive, fighting dogs pose a real threat to people and animals in the communities where the animals live. Children and pets are especially at risk for attack due to their small size.
Animals in communities where dogfighting exists are also in danger for another reason—birds, rabbits, cats, small dogs and other animals are often captured or stolen and typically killed during training sessions where they are used as bait for fighting dogs.
In addition, dogfighting is connected to other forms of crime, including money laundering and drug trafficking. "Crime doesn't happen in a vacuum," says Goodwin. "When you have violent people betting large sums of money, you're going to have problems. Dogfighting is heavily linked to gambling, drugs, prostitution, gangs, and guns."
The blood sport continues to menace communities despite the fact that it's illegal in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. While 48 states have made dogfighting a felony crime, most states impose only misdemeanor-level penalties for attending dogfights, which does little to discourage animal fighters or encourage law enforcement to pursue cases.
And sadly, even when charges are successfully brought against suspected dogfighters, animals continue to pay the price. After being confiscated, fighting dogs are typically euthanized due to their highly aggressive nature and unsuitability for adoption. In some states, the dogs are required to be held at an animal shelter until the court date, forcing shelters to euthanize healthy animals to make room for fighting dogs that will be euthanized at a later date.
But it's not all bad news. In the past few years law enforcement has dramatically upped their commitment to putting individuals involved in animal fighting behind bars. The recent succession of high-profile prosecutions is in large part a result of consistent lobbying by animal protection advocates to create stronger laws.
Yet while professional fighters are increasingly feeling the heat, street fighting—an unorganized network of amateur dogfighters—has gained popularity in urban areas. "Street fighting is booming due in large part to pop culture influences," says Goodwin.
Eradicating dogfighting—in all its forms—is no small task. But continuing to push for stronger penalties for those involved is the most effective way of closing the door on dogfighting for good. "A misdemeanor charge is just not a deterrent to people who are dealing with these large sums of money. The penalties need to be strong enough to discourage people from engaging in dogfighting," says Goodwin.
The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act aims to do just that—make it tougher for dogfighters to skirt the law. The bill, currently in the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives following its passage in the Senate in April, would make it a felony to transport animals—including dogs—across state lines or across international borders for the purposes of animal fighting. You can urge your federal representative to support this bill.
Another way to help is through education. Writing a letter to the editor or forwarding this article to friends and family will raise awareness about dogfighting. "Raising public consciousness about an issue like dogfighting is very important. If people care about an issue lawmakers will follow," says Goodwin.
Through public education, strong penalties and the dedicated work of law enforcement to find, catch and prosecute dogfighters, we can help make this dangerous and bloodthirsty sport nothing more than a page in a history book—and give these dogs a fighting chance.
Dogfighting a booming business, experts say
An estimated 40,000 people in the United States are involved in professional dogfighting, an illegal blood sport with fight purses as high as $100,000.
The latest accusations against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three other people highlight the problem. They are accused in an indictment that describes dogs being routinely executed if they didn't fight fiercely.
The indictment was handed down Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia.
The nightmare of dogfighting is growing, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
John Goodwin, an expert on animal fighting with the Humane Society, says there are an estimated 40,000 professional dogfighters in the United States, involved in putting on fights and buying and selling fighting dogs.
But, Goodwin adds, there could be as many as 100,000 additional people involved in "streetfighting" -- informal dogfighting, often involving young people in gangs.
"It's far more pervasive than people think and it's definitely been on the upswing in the past five to 10 years," he told CNN.
Statistics from animal shelters give another indicator of the rise in dogfighting, Goodwin said. Fifteen years ago, 2 to 3 percent of the dogs coming into animal shelters were pit bulls; now, he said, pit bulls make up about a third. At one shelter in Jersey City, New Jersey, Goodwin said, the figure is 65 percent, with 20 percent of them showing the scars that indicate they have been fighting dogs.
A database run by animal advocacy group Pet-abuse.com, which collects reports of animal abuse, shows reports of dogfighting cases increased from 16 in 2000 to 127 in 2006. The group has found 74 cases reported so far this year.
Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states. It's a misdemeanor in Idaho and Wyoming, and a felony everywhere else. But in some states where dogfighting is a felony, it's still perfectly legal to own a fighting dog or be a spectator at a dogfight.
A bill signed by President Bush in May made the federal law against dogfighting tougher, by strengthening penalties to felony level. The law bans interstate commerce, import and export related to animal fighting activities. Violators can now be sentenced to three years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Previously the maximum sentence was a year in jail.
Despite the laws, dogfighting is big business. Goodwin said it's impossible to estimate the amount of money involved, but the purse for a top-level professional fight could be $100,000.
"There are about a dozen underground dogfighting magazines, and about half a dozen ... registries that are exclusively used by either dogfighters or people that are fighting dog enthusiasts," Goodwin said. "You have an organized infrastructure for what is a criminal industry."
Michael Vick dog fighting
Vick 'one of the heavyweights' in dogfighting
He arrived at the hotel room, where our cameras were set up, in a T-shirt and jeans. "I'm nervous," he said, surveying our lights and camera equipment. "I've never done anything like this before."
Our confidential source said he's been involved in dogfighting for more than 30 years. He has trained and fought -- by his estimation -- about 2,000 pit bulls and was poised to tell "Outside the Lines" about the time in 2000 when his dog squared off against a dog owned by someone he referred to as one of the "heavyweights" of the dogfighting world: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
"He's a pit bull fighter," the source said of Vick. "He's one of the ones that they call 'the big boys': that's who bets a large dollar. And they have the money to bet large money. As I'm talking about large money -- $30,000 to $40,000 -- even higher. He's one of the heavyweights."
On April 25, authorities raided a house in Surry County, Va., owned by Vick and reportedly found -- among other things -- 66 dogs (most of which were pit bulls), a dog-fighting pit, bloodstained carpets and equipment commonly associated with dogfighting. Vick was not at the scene and denied knowledge of dogfighting at the property. To this point, no charges have been filed against him. But questions about Vick and his possible connection to dogfighting linger.
This source -- who required anonymity as a condition of our interview -- has helped law enforcement by supplying information on dog fights that has led to dozens of felony arrests.
"I've fought dogs, I pitted them, I bred them and I've done everything with them," said the source of his three decades in dogfighting. He then went on to describe the scene from that night seven years ago, as he took his 42-pound dog into the pit (the area dogs fight in) to face off against Vick's dog. He says Vick did not get into the pit but had a member of his entourage handle his dog while Vick placed bets with the 20 or so people in attendance.
"Then he started, you know, waving money," the source said. "He was betting with everybody … He said he got $5,000. He said he's betting on his animal."
Although the source said he doesn't know how much Vick bet that night, he does recall the matches' outcome: Vick's dog lost. He said Vick is known in the dogfighting community as "the man that comes with all the money" and his reputation is "[that] he brings a good dog and he's going to bet and he's going to bring a nice sum of cash."
ESPN contacted Vick's agent, Joel Segal, who did not respond to the source's allegations.
In the U.S., dogfighting is considered a felony in every state except Wyoming and Idaho. Despite that fact, according to The Humane Society, it's estimated that somewhere between 20,000-40,000 people in this country take part in this multibillion-dollar industry.
"I believe that dogfighting is on the upswing," said John Goodwin, the deputy manager of the Animal Cruelty Campaign for The Humane Society. "And I believe that certain elements of the pop culture have glamorized dogfighting and glamorized big, tough pit bulls."
American pit bull terriers account for 99 percent of the species involved in dogfighting, and a pit bull puppy can cost as much as $5,000. An average dog fight carries a $10,000 purse.
So why would a professional athlete risk his reputation -- and a lifetime of financial security -- to do this?
"For the thrill of it," said a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame who asked not to be identified. "It's like gambling, no different than when Michael Jordan drops $100,000 on a hole of golf."
There's no official data on just how many professional athletes might be associated with dogfighting today. Before the current investigation against Vick, in the past couple of years, only two professional athletes stand out as having been linked publicly to allegations of dogfighting: former NBA forward Qyntel Woods (who faced possible charges of dogfighting before pleading guilty to animal abuse in 2005) and former NFL running back LeShon Johnson, who pleaded guilty to three charges related to dogfighting, also, in 2005. Johnson is serving a five-year deferred sentence. But those players only scratch the surface of what Goodwin calls a "subculture" of dogfighting among professional athletes.
"You know, it's very interesting that we have got a whole roster of names of professional athletes that we know are involved in dogfighting," Goodwin said. "Surely, not every single one has come to light; I bet not even 10 percent have come to light."
If that's true, one reason might have to do with the "code of silence" among dog fighters. The source said many matches take place on rural farms, with lookouts stationed in the woods and down surrounding roads, up to eight miles away. He adds that sometimes, local sheriffs are paid off to look the other way -- that is, when they're not participating in the dog fights themselves. But with as many as 200 people in attendance at any given match, how is it possible that a high-profile athlete can attend dog fights and never have word get out to the general public?
"Dogfighting is a very private thing," answers the source, who said that Vick was still involved in dogfighting as recently as last year. "It's all Pit Bull Men. It's close knit: you got your little boys, then you got your heavyweight boys. It's a completely different class … And now [that] it's all over the media, and you have to keep it more private."
The source said he consented to our interview to change people's perceptions about dogfighting because they have "the wrong idea" about it and should see "just one" match for themselves before judging it. "They'll let this other thing go -- what is it called? UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]?" he asked. "That is every bit as bad -- you know, that's terrible. But then you have thousands of people that cheer, rah, rah, and they really love that. You see guys get their heads busted, you know, and they get their arms messed up, their legs twisted almost off. But then they fuss over this here, is wrong."
When asked what he thinks people's reactions will be when they learn of his account of Vick's involvement in dogfighting, the source was nonplussed.
"They shouldn't be really upset, OK?" he said. "Because it's only just an animal. It's just a dog that is raised up. He's put out there, you know, and he's chained up, OK. And the time he gets a certain age, this dog is going to want to fight. It is bred in him, OK? He knows what he is and he's going to fight. Just take him off the leash, let him go."
"Dogfighting is illegal for a reason," Goodwin said. "It's a severe form of cruelty."
"The gameness that the dog fighters strive for -- and 'gameness' is the willingness to continue fighting, even in the face of extreme pain, even in the face of death -- is something that's bred into the dogs," Goodwin said. "There are pit bulls that have been bred away from the fighting lines that are perfectly socialized, but the game-bred dogs -- bred for fighting -- just have it bred in them to want to kill any dog in front of them."
On Friday, Surry County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter told The Associated Press that the investigation against Vick is "moving forward." When contacted by ESPN and asked for a response to the source's contention of Vick's involvement in dogfighting, Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts responded via e-mail, "Michael was drafted by the Falcons in 2001. The allegations regarding him are still under investigation, and until we have facts related to the investigation, we are unable to respond further."
The NFL released this statement: "Dogfighting is cruel, degrading, and illegal. We support a thorough investigation into any allegations of this type of activity. Any NFL employee proved to be involved in this type of activity will be subject to prompt and significant discipline under our personal conduct policy."
While the NFL continues to monitor the Vick investigation, there's another group closely monitoring it, as well … but for a different reason.
"Everybody in the dog world is worried about Michael Vick talking," the source said, shortly before leaving our interview room and heading back to work. "Michael Vick is making large money; he's making millions, OK? And if he has to tell on some people [to avoid prison time], I think he would tell … I don't put nothing past him."
Michael Vick indicted for Killing Pit Bulls in cold blood
Michael Vick federal grand jury indictment of dogfighting
Vick Indicted in Dogfight Investigation
RICHMOND, Va. - Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges related to illegal dogfighting. Vick and three others were charged with violating federal laws against competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The indictment alleges that Vick and his co-defendants began sponsoring dogfighting in early 2001, the former Virginia Tech star's rookie year with the Falcons.
It accuses Vick, Purnell A. Peace, Quanis L. Phillips and Tony Taylor of "knowingly sponsoring and exhibiting an animal fighting venture," of conducting a business enterprise involving gambling, as well as buying, transporting and receiving dogs for the purposes of an animal fighting venture.
Telephone messages left at the offices and home of Vick's attorney, Larry Woodward, were not immediately returned.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of Vick's mother said the family knew nothing about the charges.
On July 7, federal authorities conducted a second search of the Surry, Va., property owned by Vick that is the center of the dogfighting investigation.
According to court documents filed by federal authorities earlier this month, dogfights have been sponsored by "Bad Newz Kennels" at the property since at least 2002. For the events, participants and dogs traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas and other states.
Fifty-four pit bulls were recovered from the property during searches in April, along with a "rape stand," used to hold dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified for dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting, the documents said.
During a June search of the property, investigators uncovered the graves of seven pit bulls that were killed by members of "Bad Newz Kennels" following sessions to test whether the dogs would be good fighters, the documents alleged.
Members of "Bad Newz Kennels" also sponsored and exhibited fights in other parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey and other states, according to the filings.
On Vick's Web site, he lists his birthplace as Newport News, "a.k.a. BadNews."
The documents said the fights usually occurred late at night or in the early morning and would last several hours.
Before fights, participating dogs of the same sex would be weighed and bathed, according to the filings. Opposing dogs would be washed to remove any poison or narcotic placed on the dog's coat that could affect the other dog's performance.
Sometimes, dogs weren't fed to "make it more hungry for the other dog."
Fights would end when one dog died or with the surrender of the losing dog, which was sometimes put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gun shot, electrocution or some other method, according to the documents.
Vick initially said he had no idea the property might have been used in a criminal enterprise and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity.
Vick has since declined to talk about the investigation.
MICHAEL VICK- NANCY GRACE
Feds Allege Dogfighting On Vick Property
Court Documents Outline Illegal Operation On Quarterback's Land
Federal authorities filed court documents outlining an alleged dogfighting operation at a property owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick as agents searched the property Friday.
Vick is not named in the documents.
The documents, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Richmond and obtained Friday by The Associated Press, contain the address of the home that has been the center of the investigation.
According to the documents, dog fights have been sponsored by "Bad Newz Kennels" at the property since at least 2002. For the events, participants and dogs traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas and other states. Members of the venture also knowingly transported, delivered and received dogs for animal fighting, the documents state.
Fifty-four animals were recovered from the property during searches in April, along with a "rape stand," used to hold dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified for dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting, the documents said.
The property was used as the "main staging area for housing and training the pit bulls involved in the dog fighting venture," according to the filings.
The documents said the fights usually occurred late at night or in the early morning and would last several hours. The winning dog would win from "100's up to 1,000's of dollars," and participants and spectators also would place bets on the fight.
Fights would end when one dog died or with the surrender of the losing dog, which was sometimes put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gunshot, electrocution or some other method, according to the documents.
During a June search of the property, investigators uncovered the graves of seven pit bulls that were killed by members of "Bad Newz Kennels" following sessions to test whether dogs would be good fighters, the documents said.
Members of "Bad Newz Kennels" also sponsored and exhibited fights in other parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey and other states, the filings said.
Federal agents used shovels and heavy equipment earlier Friday to search the property.
A backhoe-front loader was brought in and used to scoop up sections of a cleared wooded area in the rear of the property. The material was dumped into ice-filled coolers and loaded into a rental truck, which left the property.
Some of the investigators wore T-shirts reading: "Federal Agent USDA."
An Associated Press reporter and photographer viewing the investigation in a helicopter could not clearly identify the evidence being collected.
Investigators were digging in an area about 50 yards behind the large white house on the property. Earlier, officials worked under a blue tarp to sift earth collected in white buckets. Some wore T-shirts with the wording "POLICE."
About 15 people could be seen on the property, which included kennels and outbuildings.
Sources said the agents are looking for additional dog remains on the property, reports WAVY-TV.
One of the investigators told the news media assembled outside the property the search would take a considerable amount of time.
The expansive property in southeast Virginia has a metal gate at the entrance and a fence around the perimeter, which obscured the work of investigators. Fifteen vehicles were on the property, including the rental truck and a Virginia State Police evidence collection truck.
Corinne Geller, a spokesman for the Virginia State Police, said state authorities were working with federal investigators in an "assistance capacity."
During an April 25 drug raid at the property, authorities seized 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting. About half the dogs were tethered to car axles with heavy chains that allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact, an arrangement typical for fighting dogs, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Later, after an informant suggested authorities could find as many as 30 dogs buried on the property, including seven buried only days before the initial raid. Surry County officials secured a search warrant, but never acted on it because prosecutor Gerald G. Poindexter said he had concerns with the document.
On June 7, the day that warrant expired, federal officials executed their own with the help of state police investigators.
Poindexter publicly questioned the federal government's interest in a dogfighting case. He suggested that Vick's celebrity was the draw, and raised race as a possible motivation as well. Poindexter and Vick are black, as is Sheriff Harold Brown.
Vick has said he had no idea the property may have been used in a criminal enterprise and blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity. He also put the house up for sale and reportedly sold it quickly.
Inside The Dog Fighting Underworld
Michael Vick's Indictment Turns Spotlight On A Seedy, Abusive But Lucrative Blood Sport
The indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has turned the spotlight on the seamy, disturbing, yet fast-growing underworld of dog fighting.
Once hidden in the rural South, this blood sport with pit bulls and gambling now can be found in every state, attracting urban professionals, gang-bangers, even teenagers — 40,000 fans by some estimates, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.
"They're everybody," said Dave Havard of the Los Angeles SPCA. "They’re not locked into a certain type of culture or a certain type of neighborhood. A lot of people get involved because of the money — a lot are in it for the entertainment."
Though it's illegal in every state and a felony in 48, there's a surge in dog fighting — organized professional or amateur backyard bouts with bets of a few dollars to thousands.
A champion dog can cost as much as $30,000 but earn as much as $100,000 in winnings. The winner lives to fight another day, the loser often dies in the ring.
"They've got incredible stamina; they've got incredible power; they've got incredible speed," said Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society. "The fights can last anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours, and the dogs typically die from blood loss or shock."
Dog trainers insist the pit bulls aren't nasty by nature; they say the owners are — they bully and train the dogs to be hyper-aggressive … eager to fight any place, any time, anyone.
"There's dog fighting activities occurring somewhere every moment in this country," Pacelle said.
A sign if the times: Congress recently made it a federal crime to transport fighting dogs across state lines, which might end up pushing this vicious crime further underground.
Vick Case Shines Light on Brutal Sport
Dog-Fighting Investigation Involving Michael Vick Shines Light on Brutal Underground Sport
Through all attempts to cover his tracks secretive lingo, coded Internet chatter, a move from Pennsylvania to Texas Thomas Weigner was intently pursued by a vigilant group of animal-loving sleuths.
For years, they suspected him of being a bigwig in dog fighting's shady underworld, a breeder and trainer of fearsome canines who willingly would rip each other apart for the amusement of their bloodthirsty masters.
But it was hard to get close to Weigner. He made sure his inner circle was limited to family and trusted friends, though he seemed to live a normal life at a well-kept brick home and 24-acre spread in rural east Texas.
Then, in the middle of a warm August night, everything came crashing down. No, it wasn't a group of warrant-wielding lawmen who invaded Weigner's sanctuary, looking to find the telltale signs of animal abuse and slap the cuffs on him.
These were masked, fatigue-wearing gunmen who burst into the home. They tied everyone up and began rummaging through every nook and cranny, desperate to find the $100,000 in cash that Weigner supposedly collected after one of his top dogs whipped another grand champion.
By the time the invaders fled back into the night, Weigner was crumpled on the ground, bleeding to death from a gunshot just above his right knee.
Soon, the property was crawling with guys wearing badges. They were revolted at what they found when the sun came up. And they were shocked at just how far the case would lead.
"It was very much an eye opener," said Greg Arthur, the sheriff in Liberty County, "as far as the dog fight industry and how big it actually is."
Murder has a way of making people talk. When the Liberty County sheriff's office began snooping for leads, they found a road that led in all directions. Pittsburgh. Atlanta. Los Angeles. Dayton, Ohio. Even Ecuador.
And they kept hearing one name in particular: Michael Vick.
"Ohhhh, yes," said Liberty County sheriff's Capt. Chip Fairchild. "When we were in Dayton, they mentioned it there. In Atlanta and Pittsburgh, too. They all knew about Michael Vick being into it and sinking big dollars into it. We kept hearing that over and over. That wasn't a trail we needed to go down, because there was no indication that he had ever been here or knew our guy (Weigner). But our guy certainly knew people who knew Michael Vick."
For many people, dog fighting wasn't on the radar until Vick, star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, got swept up in it.
In April, when investigators raided a Vick-owned home in Surry County, Va., as part of a drug investigation involving a cousin of his, they stumbled upon a clandestine kennel out back.
Sixty-six dogs, mostly pit bulls, were seized, along with evidence of an organized fighting operation: treadmills rigged up for training; "break sticks" that are used to pry apart the powerful jaws of fighting animals; blood-soaked carpeting that might have been used in a fighting pit; veterinary medicines for treating wounds; and "rape stands," hideous contraptions used to restrain female pit bulls during the breeding process.
Vick denied any wrongdoing shortly after authorities raided his home. Since then, he's declined comment on the advice of his attorney.
Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis quickly defended Vick's right to be involved in dog fighting, saying "it's his property; it's his dogs."
"If that's what he wants to do, do it," Portis said last month during a TV interview.
After coming under intense criticism from animal-rights groups and plenty of football fans, Portis apologized.
But Gabriel Jones, who grew up in rural Mississippi, e-mailed The Associated Press to say Portis, a native of Laurel, Miss., needn't apologize. After all, Portis simply was conveying a fact of life on the back roads of his home state.
"I know it's fashionable for people to have a lot of indoor pets. You see people walking around with dogs in their purses, dogs as accessories, showing off their dogs. I just feel there's a whole other side to it," Jones said in a telephone interview. "In the South, at least where I came from, there's no such thing as an indoor pet unless it's a cat, maybe. People have dogs for two reasons: They are either guard dogs or fighting dogs."
Although dog fighting might be associated largely with the backwater South, it's actually a national phenomenon, cutting across geographic, social and racial lines.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that at least 20,000 and perhaps as many as 40,000 are involved in contests ranging from impromptu, back-alley battles to highly sophisticated contests where the pots run into the six figures.
It has started to become less a rural activity and more an urban activity," said John Goodwin, who handles dogfighting issues for the national Humane Society. "It's largely a recreational activity for gang members."
Major city police forces, such as Chicago and Atlanta, have units dedicated solely to shutting down the countless underground bouts. Forty-eight states have made dog fighting a felony (Idaho and Wyoming are the exceptions), but there are loopholes.
In Georgia, for instance, dog fighting is a felony, but it's not illegal to be a spectator or even to breed dogs with the purpose of fighting.
"You actually have to catch them in a fight," said state Sen. Chip Rogers, a suburban Atlanta Republican who has tried unsuccessfully during the last two legislative sessions to toughen the law. "That's why we have no one in jail for dog fighting."
Weigner's widow denies he was involved in dog fighting, but authorities in Liberty County paint a much different picture.
After Weigner was gunned down, authorities combed his property for clues. Within the home itself, they found the "dog room," where some 26 animals were cared for in relative comfort.
"It's my understanding that this is where the high-dollar, high-breed dogs were kept," said Fairchild, who investigated the case.
Those were the lucky ones. Out back, officers found a barn that was apparently used by birthing mothers. Behind that was a squalid, fenced-off pen where Weigner kept the rest of the more than 300 pit bulls that were on the property the night he was killed.
"It was terrible," Fairchild said. "Basically, the dogs were chained off to posts and walking around in water with feces floating on top of it. They would chain one dog next to another so they could get close but not get at each other, because they would rip each other apart. Their only housing was these 35-gallon plastic drums that had been turned over in the pen."
Dr. Kelli Ferris, a professor at North Carolina State's College of Veterinary Medicine, serves on a state task force that opposes animal fighting, teaches a course to animal cruelty investigators and has been an expert witness in several dog fighting cases.
She's also treated plenty of animals that emerged from the fighting pit.
"You'll see the obvious injuries that are consistent with punctures, lacerations from teeth, usually on the face, neck and forelimbs," Ferris said. "The ones that get chewed up beyond that usually don't survive."
The survivors are often covered in old scars, recently healed wounds and fresh injuries. Since a veterinarian is unlikely to be on hand, the animals are subjected to do-it-yourself medical care, including hastily placed staples and rudimentary stitches.
South Carolina's attorney general Henry McMaster paints an equally gruesome picture.
He tells of dogs being poked with electric prods to make them go harder during training, or being tied to the back of a pickup truck for long, grueling runs. He said he believes family pets have been stolen to serve as "bait dogs" helpless animals that help ensure a pit bull has the proper bloodlust for an actual fight.
"They will tape the mouth shut so the bait dog can't hurt their prized pit bull," McMaster said. "Then they'll put them in the pit and let them be chewed to pieces. They want their dogs to learn how to kill."
According to McMaster, investigators have heard of pit bulls being injected with steroids to make them stronger and having cocaine rubbed on their gums so they will be even more hyped up for a fight.
Another major problem, Ferris said, is what to do with pit bulls that are seized from a fighting operation but are too aggressive to be adopted by someone else.
These dogs are certain to be euthanized, but often not until their owner's case is settled by the courts, a process that can drag on for months or even years.
Perhaps the most telling rule about the nature of this sport is this: Should the police interfere, the referee is to name the next meeting place.
"People who say it's not in my state," Ferris said, "are not looking."
Michael Vick vs. Senator Robert Byrd
Michael Vick Dogfighting Case Makes Way to Floor of U.S. Senate
RICHMOND, Va. — The Michael Vick dogfighting case made its way to the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday when its most senior member publicly declared his outrage, saying he's witnessed one execution but wouldn't mind seeing another "if it involves this cruel, sadistic, cannibalistic business of training innocent, vulnerable creatures to kill."
The strong words from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, widely known for his devotion to animals, come as dogfighting controversy swirls around the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback. Vick and three others were indicted earlier this week on felony charges of competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The dogs were housed, trained and fought at a property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va., under an outfit named "Bad Newz Kennels," the indictment says.
Among the grisly findings: Losing dogs either died in the pit or were electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot. The indictment said purses climbed as high as $20,000 for fights.
Byrd called the activities described in the Vick case "sadistic" and "barbaric." At one point, Byrd began shouting and pumping his fist.
"Barbaric!," he yelled. "Let that word resounding from hill to hill, and from mountain to mountain, and valley to valley across the broad land. Barbaric! Barbaric! May God help those poor souls who'd be so cruel. Barbaric! Hear me! Barbaric!"
'Hottest places in hell' await dogfight promoters, oldest US senator fumes
WASHINGTON: Allegations of a vicious dogfighting ring prompted an unusually emotional speech in the Capitol on Thursday, as the Senate's longest-serving member fought back tears and called for God's judgment on those who promote such activities.
"Barbaric," Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd shouted four times in a Senate chamber that was mostly empty except for two dozen somewhat startled tourists in the balcony.
"Let that word resound from hill to hill and from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley across this broad land," he thundered, raising his right hand. "May God help those poor souls who would be so cruel. Barbaric! Hear me!"
Federal agents have charged National Football League star Michael Vick and three others with procuring and training pit bulls for fighting in Virginia and elsewhere. Investigators say some losing dogs died in the pit or were later electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot.
Byrd, 89, said he would not prejudge the men's guilt or innocence, but he left no doubts about his sentiments.
"I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt," he said.
"One is left wondering," he said. "Who are the real animals: the creatures inside or outside the ring?"
When he finished, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, also a Democrat, who sometimes brings his Portuguese water dogs to work, said, "Great speech, Bob." As Byrd left the chamber, a Senate page and TV reporter shook his hand and thanked him, and a young woman had her photo taken with him.
Dogfighting:inhumane blood sport!
Clinton Portis defends Michael Vick
Dog Fight Raid,
Stop Illegal Dog Fighting
DOG FIGHTING/ The Law Needs To Get Tougher NOW!