CARUTHERSVILLE, MO (KAIT) - At the request of the Pemiscot County Sheriff's Office, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) hosted a training workshop to help law enforcement agents, and others involved in animal cruelty cases to identify and investigate animal fighting.
ASPCA Animal Fighting Specialist Terry Mills and Tim Rickey, Senior Director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response conducted today's training.
The breakup of one of the largest dog fighting rings in America took place in Missouri. ASPCA expert Tim Rickey says there is more to animal fighting than a couple of dogs or roosters trying to tear each other to pieces.
Rickey, "And that's one of the messages we're trying to spread to law enforcement is to make that connection between the actual animal fighting and other illegal crimes." Rickey says in nearly every case there could be drugs, weapons and a variety of other crimes involved in dog fighting.
Tim Rickey and Terry Mills, a former Missouri State Trooper were leaders in Operation Break Stick in 2009. This 18 month undercover investigation resulted in 29 arrests and the seizure of more than 400 dogs. The Missouri investigators had to buy land, dogs and learn the lingo to blend into the dangerous underworld. The costs ran into the thousands including one pit bull they paid 5 Thousand for which later on was beaten in a match.
The training seminar is designed to give those involved in animal cruelty cases an inside look at this so called sport which is considered a felony in all 50 states.
The dogs can fight in one of two primary methods either the "Off Chain" match where two young dogs get their first taste of blood. The other more profitable match is a "Contract Match" that is arranged weeks in advance. A lot of money can change hands and a match can last up to an hour or longer. The winner of several matches in a row can be bred and those puppies can bring in up to a Thousand dollars a piece. Those animals that don't perform are quickly disposed of.
Rickey, "This is a very underground network. It is a very violent and brutal industry and we're going to expose that."
Lieutenant Ryan Holder of the Pemiscott County Sheriff's Department said his force has done many dog fighting investigations.
Holder, "We found that some of the dogs that were fighting were taken over into Tennessee and down into Arkansas and basically it's an awareness kind of thing."
The seminar presented information on training methods, the tools these trainers use and the harsh often cruel conditions these dogs live in.
Rickey, "Very few people have had the opportunity to be exposed to the level of animal fighting that we are going to show them how organized this is how much these animals suffer."
Mills says Missouri's dog fighting laws are some of the toughest in the country. One brief violent contact between dogs is considered a felony and even watching an organized dogfight is a misdemeanor.
After today's training session Karol Wilcox the President of the Caruthersville Humane society says she will pay closer attention to the scarred and injured pit bulls her organization takes in. Since many of the fights take place on "Saturday Nights After Dark" she realized why on Sunday and Monday their group seemed to encounter a lot of pit bulls with injuries.
Wilcox, "We weren't thinking that there was an organized ring or I wasn't thing there was an organized ring but listening to the class today we do see a lot of the signs here that it could be more organized than we think."
Organizations that revolve around gambling and selling of dogs and puppies for fighting.
Rickey, "We're really talking about money and money brings in a wide variety of characters. The one common denominator is, they are all criminals."