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Increase in dog fighting in Buffalo prompts task force to reconvene

The signs of dog fighting are all around:

A dead dog found hanging in the basement of an East Side house.

Dog carcasses dumped in Cheektowaga cemeteries.

A now-suspended employee of the Buffalo Police Department accused of breeding or training dogs to fight.

Plus, there are the battered dogs that show up at the SPCA Serving Erie County.

“We are pulling in one to two chewed-up stray dogs a week,” said Amy Jaworski, director of cruelty investigations and animal rescue for the SPCA.

The increasing number of battered dogs at the Tonawanda facility mirrors the rise in official reports.

“We’ve had more dog fighting reports and more acts of cruelty,” said Justin Wallens, Erie County assistant district attorney.

Jaworski and Wallens are two members of a task force the Erie County District Attorney’s Office recently reconvened to crack down on animal abuse. Other members of the task force come from the Buffalo Department of Public Works, the state Attorney General’s Office and the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.

Key to the rebirth of the task force, which had not formally met in months, was the arrest of Shannon Richardson, said Buffalo Police Lt. Steven J. Nichols.

Richardson, 34, was arrested Dec. 7 after police discovered four malnourished dogs and fight-training equipment at his Erb Street home. He was charged with six violations of the Agriculture and Markets Law, including failure to provide proper sustenance for the animals and leaving them without appropriate shelter.

Richardson was suspended from his job as a cell block attendant for the Buffalo Police Department. His case will be presented to an Erie County grand jury, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III confirmed earlier this month.

Reports of dead dogs are increasing around the region. For instance:

• SPCA animal control officers reported finding dead dogs dropped in Cheektowaga cemeteries near the city line.

• City sanitation workers have found dead dogs in garbage totes in isolated locations on the East Side, said city Sanitation/Recycling Director Paul Sullivan.

• And then there was the dog found hanging three weeks ago in an East Side basement.

“The necropsy proved the dog was alive when he was hung,” said Gina Browning, SPCA public relations director.

Carcasses of the dogs most often are transported to the SPCA for examination by a forensic veteran, Jaworski said.

Increasing the public’s awareness of the signs of dog fighting is a priority for the task force.

“People don’t think dog fighting is happening here,” said Browning. “It doesn’t only happen in Chicago and L.A. Residents should know what to look for.”

Hot spots for dog fighting are in areas of the city that have many abandoned homes. And even when dogs aren’t killed in a fight, the losers will die from untreated injuries or be killed afterward.

“Certain people are fighting dogs continuously on Laurel and Swinburne streets,” Wallens said. “A lot of times they will kill the dog. If a dog loses, it won’t be treated. They’ll get rid of it or kill it. It’s rare for a dog to get killed in a fight.”

But police also say that many people are reluctant to report the crimes against the dogs.

“They’ll give up a drug dealer before they give up a dog fighter,” said Buffalo Police Lt. Steven J. Nichols, who heads the department’s Community Police Unit. “Dog fighters are a tight-knit group. They don’t talk a lot, and they don’t turn on each other.”

Buffalo residents are encouraged to report suspected cases of dog fighting to the 311 Call and Resolution Center.

“We get them all the time,” Sullivan said. “Some are neighbor disputes, but when I see dog fighting, it’s a red flag.”

Nichols said the Police Department plans to integrate a two-hour class on dog fighting investigation into the curriculum for police recruits. Buffalo’s Board of Block Clubs will also be asked to help disseminate information and encourage more residents to report dog fighting.

“Those who attend dog fights do other criminal activity,” Nichols said. “Obviously, residents are nervous. They have to live in the same neighborhoods.”