Riley County animal control and law enforcement officers attended a training session Wednesday about how to investigate dog fighting and cockfighting crime.
Terry Mills, blood sports director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, led the session, explaining the underground culture of the sports. Both dog fighting and cockfighting are illegal in all 50 states - though in 10 states cockfighting isn’t a felony.
Mills said that along with the cruel treatment of animals, the sports are breeding grounds for other illegal activities including gambling, drug dealing and illegal gun sales.
“These people are all criminals,” he said.
He said people who run dogfighting rings, called dog fighters, use pitbulls and teach them to fight each other, starving and killing dogs that aren’t aggressive enough to fight. Training session attendees saw graphic photos and videos that conveyed the severity of the abuse.
He said dog fighters will breed the champion pitbull fighters and leave the rest of the litter in deplorable conditions where they are crowded, perpetually chained and rarely given water.
Pitbulls are used to fight because they have been bred for it. Dog fighting is a heritage sport, Mills said, meaning it has has been around a long time and it’s cultural.
Two qualities that make pitbulls good fighter are that they will finish what they start despite cues to stop and that they have jaws that don’t lock, Mills said.
But given normal circumstances, he said, they make great pets that aren’t aggressive toward humans.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, in cockfighting “birds often wear razor-sharp blades on their legs and incur injuries like punctured lungs, broken bones and pierced eyes.”
Mills said the sports are hard for law enforcement to curb because it’s so underground that anyone not involved in the organized crime won’t have access to it.
Mills has worked undercover, watching the sports to help put dog fighters in jail.
A former Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper, Mills now helps law enforcement investigate the crimes. He recently was involved in a raid that seized 367 dogs in Missouri, Alabama, Texas and Georgia.
He said dog fighting is more prevalent in urban areas and cited St. Louis, Mo., as one place where the crime occurs frequently.
Even though investigators became more knowledgeable about the blood sports Wednesday, Mills said he doesn’t think the crime can be stopped completely.
“It’s like other crime,” he said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to disband it completely.”
Officer Matthew Droge of the Riley County Police Department said he hasn’t heard of any reports of dog fighting or cockfighting in the Riley County area.
But he said if anyone notices animal abuse of any kind they should give RCPD a call.
“Our victims don’t always have to be people,” he said.