Hundreds of dogs rescued in statewide dogfighting operation

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Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 12:21 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2022 at 1:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - More than 20 people are facing charges in connection with what’s believed to be the biggest takedown of a dogfighting operation in South Carolina history.

Over the weekend, a joint team of more than 60 law enforcement officers executed nearly two dozen search warrants across the Midlands at places that were known as dogfighting kennels or associated with dogfighting, according to officials.

In total, 305 dogs were rescued.

“To force dogs to fight, often to the death, for the enjoyment of others is not only a federal crime, but it is also cruel, sadistic, and can create a haven for other illicit activities involving drugs and firearms,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs. “This joint operation, which has been months in the making, makes clear that dogfighting operations will find no refuge here in South Carolina.”

The US Attorney’s Office announced the operation Monday.

It began Saturday law enforcement officers interrupted a scheduled dogfighting match in Richland County.

On Sunday morning, officers executed 23 search warrants at properties in Richland, Orangeburg, Clarendon, Lee, Sumter, and York Counties.

The US Attorney’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division declined to give further specifics on these locations.

Officials said 275 of the 305 dogs seized were used in the fighting. The Humane Society and Bark nation are assisting with animal handling and care.

“Even after the many years we have worked to protect dogs from the calculated brutality that dogfighting perpetuates, our responders are still struck by the resilience of these dogs who have suffered unthinkable cruelty,” Kitty Block, president, and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement. “We are grateful to the federal and state officials for intervening on behalf of these dogs and for the opportunity to work together to get them the care they deserve.”

Jessica Johnson, senior director of the Humane Society’s animal rescue team, was one of those responders on the ground for the mission.

“You would think that after living these lives that they wouldn’t want anything to do with humans, but that they were willing to allow us to approach them and pet them and pick them up and they were just so desperate for that attention,” she said.

According to the Humane Society, the dogs were found living outdoors in pens or on chains.

Many were thin and had no apparent access to food or water, the Humane Society said.

Johnson witnessed several at the three properties she was responsible for that had untreated wounds and significant scarring.

“Many of the ones on property I was physically on were labeled as either emaciated or significantly underweight by our veterinarian,” Johnson said. “Several of them appeared to be significantly dehydrated.”

These are consistent with injuries typically sustained as a result of dogfighting, the Humane Society said in a release.

“Typical dogfighting injuries include severe bruising, deep puncture wounds, and broken bones,” the release said. “Dogs used in these events often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or infection hours or even days after the fight.”

During the operation, officers also seized around 30 firearms, $40,000 in cash, and more evidence related to dog fighting.

The more than 20 who have been arrested face state charges related to animal cruelty and dogfighting.

Governor Henry McMaster, who started a dogfighting task force as Attorney General, said that the state is safer because of the investigation.

“The depravity involved in carrying out a dogfighting conspiracy is unimaginable to most people, and those involved in such a crime must be rooted out and punished,” he said.

SLED, which is investigating the case along with the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, said the agency continues to see devastating impacts of dogfighting across the state.

“Law enforcement often finds that guns, illicit drugs, human trafficking, and child abuse are involved with instances of animal abuse,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “This operation was only a success because multiple agencies made up of dedicated professionals worked tirelessly for justice.”

Johnson said this operation illustrates how prevalent the problem of dogfighting is.

“It’s something that you don’t hear about as much anymore,” she said. “When the Michael Vick case happened years ago, you heard a lot about dogfighting and there was a lot of interest in it. And recently there just hasn’t been as much information in the news, but it 100 percent is still very active, a very significant problem, something I hope to see end within my lifetime. But it’s something that we’re still fighting, and we’re seeing every day.”

The Humane Society said the rescued dogs have been transported to safe locations but declined to give further specifics, citing the sensitive nature of the case.

According to Johnson, the dogs are currently receiving medical treatment, and will then undergo behavioral assessments.

“Our hope is that we’ll be able to match the dogs with adoption partners when they are officially released and deemed medically and behaviorally sound for adoption,” she said.

US Attorneys Jane B. Taylor, Elle E. Klein, Elizabeth Major, and Carrie Fisher Sherard are prosecuting the case.

It is a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison to fight dogs or possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive or transport dogs intended for use in dogfighting.

If you have any information on dogfighting in South Carolina, call 1-800-424-9121.

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