Share this article

print logo

Death rules in the ring Animal cruelty as a sport part of underground culture in Buffalo

Look behind some of the steel cages at the city animal shelter and you see the results of a dog-kill-dog world.

Scars and open bite wounds on a dog's front legs are the common signs of a fighting dog.

More telling than the physical evidence, though, is the fighting spirit of a game dog. The animal leaps at the side of its cage, trying to get at another dog, the wall the only thing separating it from another bloody victory.

Andrew Kleinfelder sees that scene all too often lately.

During the last two weeks, he and other animal control officers at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter rescued 15 pit bulls believed to be part of a dogfighting scene.

"We have been back to the same house three different times, and each time we pull out more and more dogs," said Kleinfelder. "Even when someone is arrested, a normal pit bull fighting ring has at least 30 people involved.
Someone keeps the fights going."

The investigation surrounding the recent discovery of 54 fighting pit bulls on property owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick put a national spotlight on the issue, but it didn't surprise local animal experts who see dogfighting as a widespread issue that attracts a diversified crowd.

>Federal crackdown

Whether it is a street fight put on by a couple of teenagers or an organized, big money battle, dogfighting is very much alive in the Buffalo area, Kleinfelder and others involved in animal protection say.

"In 2006, we believe that there were 15 animal cruelty cases related to dogfighting," said Buffalo Police spokesman Michael DeGeorge.

Evidence of pit bull fighting has been uncovered recently at sites off Broadway and Walden Avenue in Buffalo, as well as in the University District and near Buffalo General Hospital, according to the animal shelter, which does not release exact locations because of ongoing investigations.

At these sites, the animal shelter has found pit bulls -- dead and alive -- as well as "dogfighting kits." Those include harnesses, muzzles, pre-fight training guides, stacks of breeding papers, and even videos on dogfighting.

The federal government, responding to the surge in dogfighting, enacted a law last month that provides felony penalties of up to three years in jail and fines as high as $250,000 for each count of interstate or foreign animal fighting activities.

Local animal advocates believe the new law should curtail the interstate transport and foreign commerce in fighting animals.

The United States Humane Society estimates that more than 40,000 people across the country buy and sell fighting dogs and are involved in dogfighting activities.

But authorities say those in dogfighting circles also are involved in a number of other crimes, including narcotics trafficking, illegal gambling and murder.

"Just about every time we see dogfighting, it is associated with drugs," said John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society. "A lot of the people have gang affiliation as well."

Investigators say the highly secretive nature of the rings and the clandestine nature of the fights have made identifying the players very difficult.

"These people know what they're doing," said Kleinfelder. "It's like an underground sport. You don't know who they are and where they're going next. That's why when neighbors call us, it really helps a lot."

The locations and participants may vary, but undercover officers who have infiltrated the scene say fight nights are almost always the same.

Spectators often will be asked to leave their car keys and cell phones behind to avoid being traced to the site.

At the main attraction, large amounts of cash are placed on the fighting dogs, which are positioned like professional boxers in opposite corners of a square pit.

Surrounding the pit are 2- to 3-foot-tall portable plywood walls, often stained red along the bottom.

>Fighting dogs euthanized

Mariah, a well-behaved dog around people, knew the scene well.

"We picked [her] up on a drug raid," Kleinfelder said. "She was a mother dog, and when we found her she had a litter of four puppies."

Mariah was a fighting dog. She didn't need the scars to prove it, only the presence of another dog.

"She was one of the nicest people dogs, but around other dogs she went berserk," Kleinfelder said.

The animal shelter can take the dog out of the fight, but the fight remains in the dog.

"You can't give these dogs away," Kleinfelder said. "What are you supposed to tell people? 'The dog will be great if it stays in the house, but you can't take it to the park or the pet store or anywhere else where other dogs are'?"

So Mariah was euthanized, a fate shared by about 90 percent of fighting dogs that are rescued, he said.

Before the federal law was passed, New York State already had issued felony penalties up to four years to individuals fighting any types of animals.

However, possession of dogs for fighting and being a spectator at a dogfight are considered misdemeanor crimes under state law.

Spectators are not always common criminals.

"A lot of the time the people watching the fights are professionals," said Kelly McCartney, director of the animal shelter. "It's the gambling and excitement of winning."

The subculture of dogfighting seems to attract professional athletes as well. LeShon Johnson, former NFL running back, and former NBA forward Qyntel Woods, who both pleaded guilty to animal abuse in 2005, are among the professional athletes linked to dogfighting.

Authorities are now trying to determine whether Vick is a part of that subculture after law enforcement in Virginia stumbled upon dogfighting evidence during an April 25 drug raid at a home owned by Vick.

In addition to fighting dogs, investigators say they found training tools used to increase the "gameness" of a fighting dog on the 15-acre property.

Although Vick denies any involvement, an ESPN interview with a confidential source called Vick one of the dogfighting world's "heavyweights."

For pro athletes, it's not about the money, Kleinfelder says. "Instead of boxers just beating up on each other, they want to see it go to the death, and with dogs they can let it go that far. To them, dogs are expendable," he said.


There are no comments - be the first to comment