The violent underworld of dog fighting

The violent underworld of dog fighting

DVMs assist law enforcement, animal-welfare groups in crackdown efforts
Jul 01, 2007

To some people, it's an exciting sport.

To others, it's a harmless gambling enterprise.

But to most Americans, it's a shady, repugnant business they'd rather not hear about.

Opinions aside, dog fighting is a crime that seems to be on the increase, and veterinarians are joining hands with law-enforcement officials and animal-rights groups nationwide in a sweeping new effort to bring it to heel.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) went on the offense, posting a new policy statement on its Web site specifically addressing animal fighting and urging its members to cooperate with law enforcement in curbing the practice.

Congress, too, joined the fray recently by passing the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, providing a three-year prison term and fines up to $250,000 for interstate and foreign animal-fighting activities. Dog fighting is a felony in all states except Wyoming and Idaho, although state penalties vary widely, from modest fines to serious jail time.

John Goodwin
Introduced in the United States more than a century ago, dog fighting has long operated in seedy, underground venues, but some recent high-profile cases – particularly one involving an investigation at a Virginia property owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and major raids and several arrests at nine locations in southern Ohio – are shining a light on its methods and business side as never before.

"It's definitely on the upswing," says John Goodwin, an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). That group estimates 20,000 to 40,000 people participate in what it believes is a multibillion-dollar industry each year nationwide.

The HSUS says the majority of fighting dogs are pit-bull terriers bred specifically for the blood sport and that top breeders command up to $5,000 each for a pit-bull puppy. It says an average dog fight carries a $10,000 purse, but when high-profile figures get involved the payouts can be many times that.

Dr. Gail Golab
Veterinarians "can and do play a critical role in many of these cases by providing expert testimony on dog-fight injuries, equipment and the drugs that are used. They also help just by reporting what they see: Good veterinarians will report animal injuries and abuse from dog fights in the same way good medical doctors report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities," Goodwin says.

Reporting obvious fight injuries is always the ethical thing for veterinarians to do, whether required by law to do so or not, says Gail Golab, PhD, DVM, the AVMA's associate director for animal welfare.