Is dogfighting something new?
Dogfighting has been going on in the United States for more than two centuries.
Once widely legal, it's now outlawed in every state and a felony in all but two. Animal-rights advocates consider it an abomination, but dogfighters consider it their sport and their right, and they continue to pursue it clandestinely.
According to a database kept by the animal advocacy group pet-abuse.com, reported U.S. dogfighting cases rose from 16 in 2000 to 123 in 2006.
So far this year, 62 cases have been reported in the U.S.
How about locally?
Hanover County's animal-control chief, Sgt. Kevin M. Kilgore, says some sure signs of dogfighting's growth are sitting in the county shelter.
"Fifty percent of the animals that we'll have housed, either those picked up as strays or seized, are pit bulls," he said. "Maybe 10 years ago we would see one or two pit bulls on occasion."
What is law enforcement doing?
Usually it takes a complaint from a neighbor or information from another dogfighter to make an arrest. Like most criminal activities, dogfighting is hidden.
Last month, a judge in Richmond Circuit Court imposed a four-year prison sentence and $20,000 in fines on convicted dogfighter Stacey Albert Miller of Richmond.
Besides Miller, one other dogfighting case has been prosecuted in Richmond during the past two years. That also resulted in jail time.
Investigations are under way in Hanover as well, and Spotsylvania County has prosecuted five dogfighting cases since 2001.
Local authorities know dogfighting activities, including breeding and training, are going on in Richmond and in Chesterfield and Hanover counties.
"Periodically we get information from citizens about street fighting, but it's very hard because you don't have the location prior [to the fight] so you can set up surveillance," said Chesterfield animal-control manager Alice Berry.
Where does dogfighting take place?
Traditionally a rural activity, the blood sport has caught on in the nation's urban centers. Authorities and animal-welfare groups say its growth is explosive there.
Dogfights tend to fall into three categories: street fights, which represent the vast majority of activity; and two levels of organized fights, hobbyist and professional.
Organized fights are clandestinely arranged. Word about when the fight will take place spreads secretly by mouth or Internet.
Street fights typically take place in an alley or backyard and last 10 to 15 minutes.
How do dogfighters train animals?
From youth, experts say, potential fighting dogs are worked hard on treadmills, forced to swim for hours at a time and trained to hang on with their jaws while dangling from "springpoles" baited with meat or rawhide.
The dogs are usually confined outdoors using heavy tow or logging chains, sometimes with barbell weights added, so they build up strength just walking around.
Young dogs are first tested by fighting in informal training sessions. Those that display a fighting instinct are then tested in matches that last about 45 minutes against other potential fighters.
What's the attraction of dogfighting?
The violence and exclusivity of dogfighting is what draws many people, experts say. The gambling that goes along with it, a sense of higher status from owning a champion dog and being part of an outlaw subculture are aspects that appeal to some.
"There's a sense of [machismo]," explained Davis S. Favre, a professor at Michigan State University's College of Law who specializes in animal law issues. "Their self-esteem is tied very much into this sense of, 'I'm tough and I have dogs that are tough, and I'm going to prove my level of masculinity.'"
He said much of the inner-city dogfighting scene has links to gang culture. There is also a perception that some rappers and professional athletes take part and endorse dogfighting.
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