Baltimore prosecutors announced the indictments of 22 men investigators say took part in a vast dogfighting ring that operated in basements and backyards across the Baltimore area.
"It's a cruel world," Baltimore police Lt. Col. Sean Miller said. "The connectivity to violent crime and violence is apparent."
Armed with search warrants, Baltimore police raided 15 city row houses and other properties, two Baltimore County locations and a compound in West Virginia.
Over the course of the yearlong investigation, Baltimore police say, officers seized 225 dogs, 50 puppies and 20 guns. They charged 14 men with dogfighting conspiracy, aggravated cruelty related to dogfighting, animal abuse and neglect.
Thiru Vignarajah, Major Crimes Unit chief for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, called the Baltimore-area operation an "unforgiving underworld" where dogs were trained to fight for entertainment and financial gain. Dogfight purses sometimes surpassed $100,000, he said.
"Because there is a link between animal abuse and human violence, it is important that these crimes be taken seriously, which is exactly what the [police] did," said Katie Flory, chair of the mayor's Anti-Animal Abuse Commission.
American Humane Association's renowned Red Star Animal Emergency Services team was asked to stand by to help the animal victims and began providing care for the dogs at an undisclosed shelter in the Baltimore area, helping with the handling and comforting of 69 animals who for so long have known nothing but brutal torture, abuse and neglect.
"Animal fighting is a barbaric and cowardly form of cruelty," said Justin L. Scally, national director of Humane Intervention & Emergency Services for American Humane Association. "One that not only leads to immense animal suffering – but one that frequently also involves other crimes and violence."
"A situation like this, involving deliberate cruelty to animals and, often, death, is especially heartbreaking," said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane Association. "Unless someone intervenes, these animals would have no hope."
Local shelters are housing 85 of the dogs seized, and police did not know their status, including how many could be put up for adoption and how many might be euthanized. Baltimore County's Animal Services shelter received six of the dogs, which are on administrative hold pending the legal case and cannot be adopted, said Ellen Kobler, Baltimore County government spokeswoman.
"Each and every dog is assessed individually by a professional," Baltimore police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said. "Every effort is made to rehabilitate and place them for adoption. As a general rule, many dogs, including all puppies and young dogs, do end up in loving families as a result of their effort."
Sources: American Humane Association and Baltimore Sun
Image via: Baltimore Sun