Texas authorities announced last week they had broken up what was described as "one of the largest dogfighting rings" in the United States.Â
Following a seventeen month long investigation a grand jury returned indictments against 55 people.Â
Once the indictments were issued, authorities launched raids in Matagorda, Tyler, Jasper, Montgomery and HarrisÂ counties, arresting 8 of the miscreants and seizing 187 dogs along with dog fighting paraphernalia, videos of dog fighting, weapons, illegal drugs and stolen property.
This week it became clear that the victims of these crimes, the dogs, will pay the ultimate price. Houston SPCA announced on Friday, November 21 that all of the 61 dogs in its custody would be "humanely euthanized". Â These dogs were seized from Tyler County. Spokesperson Meera Nandlal told Animal Law Coalition the dogs were "bred from a long line of fighting dogs". When asked if a temperament test or behavior assessment had been performed on each dog, Nandlal repeated they were "bred from a long line of fighting dogs". Â Nandlal would not say whether the dogs had been evaluated prior to the decision to euthanize them. Â Â
Houston SPCA explained that it has a policy of not adopting out pit bulls or fighting dogs. These dogs were primarily pit bull mixes as well as other breeds.
The SPCA reported they found the dogs tied on chains. Â Authorities also found on the Tyler County property the burned remains of a dog.
Last Tuesday, on November 18, just a few days after the November 14 seizure of the dogs, a judge awarded custody of dogs seized in Harris County to Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Dept. Assistant District Attorney Belinda Smith told Animal Law CoalitionÂ these dogs have already been euthanized. Â Harris County animal control also has a policy of not adopting out aggressive dogs.Â Â
There was no rescue for these dogs seized in the Texas raids. Only death. Unlike the celebrated dogs of Michael Vick which were painstakingly evaluated by ASPCA and a court appointed special master or guardian and then placed with rescue groups for further training or rehabilitation and, for some, eventual adoption by loving families. It’s arguable there was just not enough celebrity associated with the Texas dogs to save them. Certainly without help local animal control and humane societies lack the resources to house, rehabilitate and train the numbers of former fighting or abused dogs filling their shelters. But it doesn’t cost much to evaluate the dogs. Â As the Vick case and others have proven, stereotyping the victims, like breed discrimination, is a mistake and waste of life. Â Â
A teacher charged with dog fighting
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has filed 41 felony charges in the case including dog fighting, gambling and drug law violations. Defendants convicted of dogfighting could be sentenced to up to two years in jail. Tex. Penal Code Sec. 42.10 45 misdemeanor charges for being a spectator at a dog fight were also filed. That offense is punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a year in jail. Tex. Penal Code Sec. 42.10
Among those arrested was Jay Andrews, a former professional baseball player and teacher in the Aldine Independent School District in Houston. He was an English teacher.
The others arrested are Robert Lee Rogers of Cloverleaf; William Marquis Stanforth of Channelview; Benjamin Stanforth of Houston; Donald Woods of Houston; Ellis Island of Channelview; Harold Jeffery of Houston; and Kevin Rogers of Cloverleaf.Â Authorities are still looking for many of the others indicted in the case.
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Intelligence Service headed the raids and worked with other agencies and individuals for 17 months to find members of the dog-fighting ring. These included the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General (OIG),Â Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services, Houston SPCA, Houston Humane Society, the Harris County District Attorney’s office, and county commissioners and constables. Â
During a November 18 court hearing for two of those charged, prosecutors said undercover agents paid one of the men $1,500 for a puppy for dog fighting. Prosecutors also said agents attended a dog fight set up by the defendant; spectators were said to have placed bets of up to $5,000. A spokesperson said as many as 100 people might attend a dog fight that could involve bets of tens of thousands of dollars. One fight involved bets of $80,000.
Prosecutors said fights were held in secluded locations and advertised only by word of mouth. The fights were also venues for drug trafficking, weapons, and theft. Â Interestingly, detailed records were kept that will aid authorities in tracking those involved and prosecuting their crimes.
One investigator described dog fighting as a "huge underground subculture" with different tiers from two people fighting their dogs just to find out who is tougher, to those who breed and train dogs for fights that involve gambling, to those that breed, train, and feed the dogs as if they are professional athletes and organize and operate the fights as a business with high dollar bets.
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Find out about hotlines you can call to report suspected animal fighting in your area.
Write or call the Harris County District Attorney and thank them for prosecuting this horrific crime to the fullest extent of the law: Â 1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600, Houston, Texas 77002-1923, 713-755-5800