Dogfighting: Beaufort County’s hidden problem

Published 5:17 pm Thursday, March 29, 2007

By Staff
Dogs stolen, forced to fight
Staff Writer
Organized dogfighting is a big problem in Beaufort County, said Sandy Woolard, the chief animal-control officer.
Woolard said these dogs can sometimes be aggressive to small children. “We can’t adopt a dog that’s a threat to the general public.”
In the past three to four years, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has investigated five illegal animal-fighting incidents, said Capt. Kenneth Watson.
Dogfighting, possession of dogs for fighting and watching a dogfight are felonies in North Carolina. Offenders can also be charged with cruelty to animals. Watson said when animal control is dealing with a potential felony case, they contact the sheriff’s office. The two agencies work together.
A dogfighting case in Chocowinity in 2004 resulted in 10 people being charged, Watson said.
One of the items seized was a treadmill that was converted for the purpose of conditioning a dog. “It has walls on it and a chain so that if you chained the dog to it and turned it on, the dog couldn’t get off the treadmill,” he said.
The Beaufort County Animal Shelter has special policies for people adopting pit bulls, which are the most popular dogs used in dogfighting.
Pit bulls are not ferocious by nature, Woolard said. There are more small-dog bites reported in the U.S., but “pit bulls can do more damage,” she said.
Though the dogs average only 40 to 50 pounds, their jaws are extraordinarily muscular and capable of breaking an opponent’s leg, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Woolard said, “They condition them, using training equipment to build muscle mass.” Dogs are forced to pull heavy carts. “They will put meat on a chain and sling it around for the dog to chase,” she said.
The owners use logging chains on the dogs.
These pet owners don’t bring the dog to a veterinarian “for fear of getting reported,” Woolard said. A fighting dog will have old and fresh wounds and they are usually very lean. “They cut the ears back, close to the head, so they can’t grab on.”
A dogfighting ring is usually surrounded with plywood and has carpet in the center to mark where the dogs start, Woolard said. “They use sticks, when the jaws are locked together, to break them apart.”
Owners think dogs are worth more if they win more fights, Woolard said. “They look at it as a sport — not as a pet — but as a money-making product.”
Watson said the Internet is used to advertise dogfights. “They disguise their actions by calling them ‘hunts.’ They would organize a ‘hunt,’” she said.
It’s common for smaller pets to be stolen and used as bait to train the dogs, Woolard said.
Watson said the sheriff’s office gets “numerous reports for dog larcenies in the county.” He said there had been no evidence of other animals being used as bait, but that “pit bulls are a popular target for dog larcenies.”
Woolard recommends getting a microchip for all dogs so that if it’s stolen or lost, it can be identified easily.
If residents have information or suspect illegal dogfighting is going on, they can call Beaufort County Animal Control or the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.