Be aware of dogs

September 17, 2007

The arrests of two people in Anne Arundel County on dogfighting charges this month demonstrate that this illegal activity can be found anywhere - and it is often tied to other crimes. Although dogfighting cases in Anne Arundel are rare, such activities flourish in the shadows. Awareness and vigilance on the part of residents can play a big part in helping law enforcement authorities bring them out in the open.

Like other forms of forced combat among animals, dogfighting is a reprehensible kind of animal cruelty. Organized dogfighting with lucrative betting operations draws about 40,000 human participants, according to the Humane Society of the United States, and 100,000 dogs fight in informal settings, such as on streets or in abandoned houses.

Public awareness of dogfighting as an organized enterprise has increased since the arrest of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy charges involving his financial support for a dogfighting ring. He also allegedly participated in the killing of some animals.

In Anne Arundel County, a tip from a local resident led police to a wooded area behind a home near Ritchie Highway not far from Severna Park High School. Outside the home, police found five pit bulls (four adults and one puppy, the maximum number of dogs that could be in the home) being kept in terrible conditions - bare dirt with no water, food or shade. Although only one of the dogs had injuries that indicated involvement in fighting, police found equipment that could have been used to train dogs for the horrible spectator sport.

The suspected dogfighting in this case may well be merely the top layer of more dangerous criminal activity. While the two suspects have been charged with maintaining a dogfighting operation, cruelty to animals and arranging or conducting dogfights, they are also facing drug and gun charges in connection with about $3,500 worth of crack cocaine and a loaded 9 mm pistol that police reported finding inside the house.

Ultimately, those charges will be taken more seriously by law enforcement authorities, and they carry much heavier potential penalties - a maximum of 20 years compared with three for dogfighting. But without a citizen's alert about dogfighting, the other alleged crimes might not have been exposed.

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