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Federal Agents Seize 63 Dogs From Suspected Dog Fighting Ring

U.S. Attorney Files Civil Lawsuit to Take Ownership of the Animals and Recover Costs of Care

On March 23, 2018, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the possession of 63 pit bull-type dogs that were allegedly involved in a dog fighting venture in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Pursuant to a federal warrant, the animals were seized on March 19, 2018, in Eastman, Georgia, by United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) special agents working with the United States Marshals Service, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia State Patrol (GSP), Oconee Drug Task Force, Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, the animals were seized after GSP troopers conducted a traffic stop involving a vehicle inside of which an injured dog was found. The operator of the vehicle admitted to having been present at a dog fight in Eastman, Georgia, and provided law enforcement with the location of the fight. At the reported location, agents discovered a disassembled dog fighting “pit” and more than 60 pit bull-type dogs staked to the ground by heavy chains. The condition of a majority of the dogs, including scarring and aggression towards other dogs, was consistent with dog fighting and related training.

After obtaining a search warrant, agents found numerous indications of dog fighting at the Eastman property, including a treadmill with a rope attached to the front part of the machine, antibiotics and other injectable veterinary medications, and a jenny mill, which is used to develop a dog’s endurance and musculature by enticing the animal to run on a circular track. From four grave areas, agents unearthed the remains of seven dogs, five of which had scarring consistent with dog fighting and one of which had a broken leg. During the search, agents noted that none of the live animals had access to food, and most did not have access to water.

Following the seizure, the United States Marshals Service took custody of the animals. K2 Solutions, Inc. and the Humane Society of the United States are assisting with the care of the dogs, at least some of which are pregnant.

“The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division is pleased to have partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Marshals Service, and federal and state law enforcement in this joint effort to remove these animals from harm’s way, pursuant to federal law, as quickly as possible,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We applaud the agents and attorneys who worked tirelessly and acted on very little notice to achieve this successful outcome.”

“Dog fighting is a barbaric spectacle that has no place in any civilized society, and it will enjoy no quarter in the Southern District of Georgia,” said United States Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “We know that animal fighting ventures often entail other forms of illegal activity involving drugs, firearms, and gambling, and this Office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners at all levels to investigate and successfully prosecute those who contribute to the proliferation of crime and seek to profit off the abuse and suffering of helpless animals.”

“The United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General-Investigations, actively investigates allegations of animal abuse,” said Special Agent in Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox for USDA-OIG. “This agency has made animal fighting a high priority in order to demonstrate that these blatant acts of cruelty to animals will no longer be tolerated. We would like to thank United States Attorney’s Office for aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of animal fighting.”

Dog fighting is a violent contest in which two dogs that are bred and conditioned for fighting are released by their owners or handlers in a controlled environment to attack each other and fight for purposes of entertainment or gambling. Fights usually end when one dog withdraws, when a handler “picks up” his dog and forfeits the match, or when one or both dogs die. Persons engaged in dog fighting typically use “pit bull”-type dogs, which dog fighters prefer for their compact muscular build, short coat, and the aggression that some display toward other dogs.

The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive, or transport them for that purpose. The statute further authorizes the seizure and forfeiture of animals involved in dog fighting. Once the dogs are forfeited or surrendered to federal authorities, they can be evaluated and placed for adoption. Although federal funds will be used to pay for the care of the dogs while they remain in law enforcement custody, the Animal Welfare Act empowers the government to recover those costs from the dogs’ owners.

Assistant United States Attorneys Theodore S. Hertzberg and Xavier A. Cunningham are pursuing the forfeiture of the dogs on behalf of the United States. USDA-OIG is leading the related federal investigation. For any questions, please contact the United States Attorney’s Office at (912) 652-4422.