More than 300 dogs were rescued in South Carolina over the weekend in what the Department of Justice called the “biggest takedown” of a dogfighting ring in the state’s history.
South Carolina authorities interrupted a dogfight in the capital of Columbia on Saturday, and in a joint operation with the DOJ, served 23 warrants Sunday in Richland, Clarendon, Lee, York, Sumter and Orangeburg counties to rescue 305 dogs, the federal agency said in a press release Monday.
“A joint team of more than 60 federal prosecutors and state law enforcement officers executed nearly two dozen warrants for various properties in the Midlands area in what is believed to be the biggest takedown of a dogfighting operation in South Carolina history,” the release said.
The Justice Department said 275 of the rescued dogs were likely forced into fights and that the warrants were served at known dogfighting kennels or addresses associated with the illegal sport. The Humane Society of the United States assisted in handling and sheltering dogs upon their rescue.
The Humane Society said many of the dogs were troublingly thin and found chained or caged outside without access to water or food, despite the warm weather. Many were scarred or had open wounds and had to be treated immediately, according to the group.
Authorities also confiscated about 30 guns and $40,000 in cash during these raids and placed more than 20 people under arrest “for state charges relating to animal cruelty and dogfighting,” the Justice Department said.
The statement said possessing, training, selling, buying, delivering, receiving or transporting dogs for dogfights is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison under the Animal Welfare Act — and that these raids might be a prelude to further charges.
“To force dogs to fight, often to the death, for the enjoyment of others is not only a federal crime, it is also cruel, sadistic, and can create a haven for other illicit activities involving drugs and firearms,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said.
Perhaps most heartbreaking were accounts from Humane Society responders at the scene, who witnessed only some of the dogs greeting their saviors with wagging tails — while the rest remained hunched over and afraid of human interaction.
Dogfighting, which begins with trainers breeding the animals and conditioning them into aggressive behavior, leads to serious injuries including bruising, broken bones and deep punctures. These can be fatal, whether by blood loss, shock, exhaustion or infection.
“It’s truly distressing to come upon dogs who are severely injured yet chained to trees or left to languish in a pen instead of getting the care they desperately need,” said Adam Parascandola, vice president of the animal rescue team for the Humane Society. “Thanks to all the agencies who intervened on behalf of these dogs, this is the last day they’re going to have to live like this.”