Dogfighting rings hard to spot in Aiken County

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AIKEN - This dog has no name that animal control officers know of.

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A note warns those who are dealing with the dog.  Ron Cockerille/Staff
Ron Cockerille/Staff
A note warns those who are dealing with the dog.

He growls. He barks. He lunges at the cage door. He bites at the chains separating him from the people standing outside. Sometime soon, he'll probably be euthanized.

He is part of a national problem and a disturbing nuisance in Aiken County: dogfighting.

Animals seized from dogfighting rings are almost always ordered by judges to be euthanized, said Ronnie Broome, Aiken County's new chief animal control officer.

The dogs have been trained to kill and even though most of the ones seized - typically pit bulls - are friendly to humans, they can't be around other animals.

During their stay at the county's animal shelter, "each one has to be in a separate kennel," Mr. Broome said.

"I wouldn't want to put them back in a home, especially with a child," said Capt. Wallace Owens, who heads the investigation unit at the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. "You never know when it'll turn on you."

Over the past three years, Capt. Owens said, his agency has shut down five to six dogfighting rings, mostly in isolated, rural areas.

"A lot of these things are in locations where it's hard to find them," he said. "Neighbors don't report them, and a lot of times, we'll stumble on them."

What would help, he said, is for residents to report dogfighting to authorities. Unfortunately, he said, people often don't know whether a neighbor is running an underground dogfighting ring or just has a lot of dogs.

Things to look for are many dogs of one breed, a lot of nighttime activity, commotion from the dogs and even treadmills used to condition the canines.

In Aiken, Capt. Owens said, dogfighting rings are often "crude" events run by people "just into fighting dogs."

They, and the people who watch them, are typically male who are young to middle age. Capt. Owens said he can't recall any women being at the raids.

Illegal in all 50 states, dogfighting is not always a felony.

In some places, laws about the crime are getting tougher.

In Georgia, a state lawmaker has proposed a bill that would toughen the law against dogfighting, raising the punishment for people convicted of the crime more than once to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

In South Carolina, the law addresses animal fighting, and owning an animal with the intent of fighting or baiting is a felony punishable by as much as five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Those who watch can be arrested on misdemeanor charges.

That difference in punishment can stifle prosecution, Assistant Solicitor Beth Ann Young said. She's prosecuting two recent cases of dogfighting in Aiken County court.

Having spectators charged with misdemeanors at first - it goes up to a felony after more arrests - presents authorities with "a little bit of a challenge," she said.

They have to prove "who's fighting the dogs and who's just watching."

It's deplorable either way, she said.

Ms. Young said the organizers of these events often steal dogs to use in training, or as bait.

"Then you're getting two innocent victims: the dog and the owner," she said.

Dogfighting is so widespread and connected to so many other crimes that Attorney General Henry McMaster once formed a task force and embarked on a campaign to stamp out the illegal sport after years of irregular enforcement.

Capt. Owens said rural areas lend themselves more easily to dogfighting rings, but local investigators have found them in the middle of heavily populated areas.

"People just don't pay attention," he said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.

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Drama Mamma
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Drama Mamma 01/22/07 - 10:14 am
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How sad for these animals I

How sad for these animals I will never understad why do people do this they are a breathing living creature with feelings and they feel pain just like we do. I hope for all the ones that want to treat our animals from god like this will be punished severly.

barlow1948
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barlow1948 01/22/07 - 11:05 am
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These SICK people should be

These SICK people should be given large fines and mandatory jail time whether they watch or fight the animals.

Drama Mamma
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Drama Mamma 01/22/07 - 01:28 pm
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I have a good one put them in

I have a good one put them in there with the dog and lets see how they feel.

GodsLeadingLady
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GodsLeadingLady 01/22/07 - 08:29 pm
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Someone, I know it was a

Someone, I know it was a neighbor, opened my backyard gate and stole our American Staffordshire Terrier (AST/ Pitbull breed) between the hours of 12:30pm and 2:00pm on Oct, 8. We were in church that Sunday and my neighbor knew this. His name is Bite'em and he is a brindle (tiger-striped pit). I am hearing that he was sold for $150 to a man in Dry Branch in New Ellenton. He was registered with the City of Aiken (has the microchip) and was due for his last set of shots when he was stolen. He suffered from allergies and scratches a lot. He was super gentle and kind because he was house trained and he attended puppy and obedience training. I pray that someone sees him and report it to Aiken County Animal Control so we can get him back. He is not a fighting dog. God will have his revenge on the person that stole him and the person that bought him.

simplelesson
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simplelesson 01/22/07 - 09:58 pm
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Dog fighting is a way for

Dog fighting is a way for folks to gamble away extra money or money that is not visible to the IRS. Law enforcement should watch these folks to track down drug dealers. Most of the drug dealing middlemen have plenty of money but can not make large capital investments such as homes, land, new cars, etc.... The same or similar folks can be found at the drag strip on Thursday nights flashing large sums of money around. Race cars and used racing equipment is difficult to place a value on and can be purchased and used for drag race gambling.

Jen2803
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Jen2803 01/23/07 - 12:30 am
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How sad. The people that

How sad. The people that train these dogs and the people that watch the fights are not caring human beings. I cannot stand to think about it let alone watch it. The worse part of it is those poor animals. They are innocent and are being trained to kill but when a fighting ring is broken up it's the animal who pays because they have to be put to sleep. The people who run the fighting rings get a slap on the wrist and out the door they go to do it again.

Drama Mamma
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Drama Mamma 01/23/07 - 06:26 pm
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I think they should go to

I think they should go to prison for at least 5 years and not allowed to own a dog. this storey just breaks my heart.

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