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Fighting scars linger for dogs seized in raids throughout Midwest

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 6:22 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Fay looks menacing as her teeth jut out from a mouth without lips, which have been ripped from her face along with part of her nose during vicious dogfights.

But the 5-year-old black American pit bull terrier, one of the pitiful casualties of an illegal practice, wags her tail relentlessly and offers her scarred body to be petted by strangers. She cuddles easily in the arms of a caretaker.

After the first guilty pleas from the largest coordinated multistate raids on dogfighting in U.S. history, the Humane Society of Missouri offered a first look Monday at some of the hundreds of dogs seized in the July 8 raids, and puppies born since.

The Missouri group alerted the government to the dogfighting 18 months ago and coordinated rescues in two of the states.

Humane Society video of the bust showed dogs missing ears and whole legs, or bearing deep scars and puncture wounds. It chronicled canines, some appearing malnourished, tethered on 2-inch-wide collars to 25-pound log chains attached to spikes on dirt pads or overgrown weed patches. In some cases, the dogs' water supply was green with algae.

"We saw severely mutilated dogs missing eyes, ears and limbs," said Tim Rickey, director of the Humane Society of Missouri's anti-cruelty task force. "Their condition is bad enough, but to know that three-legged dogs were forced to fight for their survival is too much."

Four eastern Missouri men arrested as part of a federal crackdown pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and other crimes, admitting their roles in breeding, training, trafficking, fighting and destroying pit bulls in a lucrative dogfighting network.

The four, along with a fifth co-defendant who pleaded guilty Sept. 4, were the first convictions from the raids. Authorities arrested 26 people and seized more than 500 dogs in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Agents also seized dog conditioning equipment and "rape stands" used to strap females into place to be bred. Rickey said breeding is a critical part of the industry because fighting dogs don't live long, and new pups are needed to replenish the supply.

It's a bleak future for any dog that fights, win or lose, he said.

"The quitter gets killed, and the survivor, after two hours of fighting for his life, is taken home without medical attention and left to die in one or two days," Rickey said.

The Humane Society has more than 400 dogs taken from suspects in eastern and western Missouri and southern Illinois, and another 100 puppies born since the raids. About 100 more seized in the other states are being held by other groups.

Federal judges overseeing separate civil forfeiture proceedings will determine who has rightful claims to the confiscated dogs. They'll also consider the recommendations of animal behavior experts on whether the dogs are suitable for adoption.

 


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