‘It’s very underground:’ Dog fighting happening locally, but difficult to track

27 Investigates

Humane agents say it's important for people to report any suspicious activity that they see

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Dog fighting is a practice that dates back to ancient times. Now, here in the Valley, it is a practice that is kept secret and hard to track. 

Dog fighting is where dogs are forced to fight one another, as people watch and place bets. As inhumane as it may seem, it still goes on right here in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. 

“Dog fighting is found probably in every area, everywhere in the country. It’s not exclusive to any particular neighborhood, any particular state, city, economic background,” said Mary Louk, board president for Animal Charity. 

Although it is happening, tracking it is what is difficult. 

“It’s very, very difficult to get a handle on; it’s very underground. It’s typically done out in areas where there are no neighbors, so that you can’t hear what’s going on… No one will talk about it, it’s nothing anyone will talk about ever, anywhere, and it’s just very difficult to track down,” Louk said.

Typically, if a report or complaint is made about possible dog fighting, the humane agency will check to see if the address has a history of dog fighting. After that, the humane agent will visit the home, and if they’re not able to speak with anyone, they must leave a notice that they were there.

This makes it difficult to catch dog fighters. Many times, once a notice is left or a visit is made to the home, the dog fighters will pick up and move to a new location, leaving only remnants behind.

Often, animal shelters and organizations see the after-effects of dog fighting. When the dogs come into shelters, they tend to be in bad shape. 

“Often times, they have injuries, sometimes they have not had the necessary vaccinations so they can have sickness. Typically, they have some type of conditions, flea infestations, it can be skin conditions if they are kept in an area that’s not cleaned regularly, they can have urine burns,” said Lori Shander, of the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County.

Although the dogs are kept somewhat healthy so they can fight, they are also treated badly in the process.

“They do crazy things with these poor dogs. The fighting dogs, I mean, they’re more victims than anything else. They throw them in the back of trunks, and they have loud music, and they scoot around, you know driving fast, crazy to disorient the dogs. Then, they take them out and they see which ones can fight. Also, they’ll put them in with stallions, they’ll put them in with alligators, to get them to fight they really use and abuse them,” said Sharon McElroy, president of the board of Columbiana County Humane Society.

In some cases, authorities will stumble upon dog fighting after getting calls about other complaints.

“What happens is they usually go to a call, gambling, drugs, theft, anything of that nature, they’ll get there and that’s when they’ll find the fighting dogs. They also potentially will find bait animals there, too,” McElroy said.

Bait animals, such as cats or small rodents, are animals used to train dogs. In some cases, the dogs will be tied on a chain and a cat will be placed in front of the dog. The dog strains to reach the cat, in turn, strengthening his muscles.

“There have been some cases where people have used cats to cause the dogs to fight. It’s absolutely horrific for the cat obviously, and then to have a dog that’s trained to do that is just horrible, and unfortunately cats are very very, they’re very vulnerable,” Louk said.

Louk said it’s harder to protect cats since there are so many strays that can be picked up in any neighborhood. 

“People view these animals as something to make money off of, and that you know, fighting these animals is entertainment,” Louk said.

Although it is hard to track, there are warning signs to look for. 

“A few of the warning signs are, you know, dogs on really thick, heavy chains… Treadmills, they’ll put dogs on treadmills, so that they build up stamina… They have, they’re called break sticks, and they’re big thick wooden sticks, they use to break the dogs apart. The dogs themselves tend to have very scarred faces, very scarred bodies,” Louk said.

Hearing dog cries or screams can also be a sign. 

“Pay attention if you live in or around areas that have abandoned houses, make sure that you’re paying attention. Are there dogs that are randomly showing up and disappearing?… Most likely if that’s happening, it’s not happening for good reasons,” Louk said.

Louk, McElroy and Shander all agree that pit bulls are the most common breed used for dog fighting.

Once the dogs are brought to shelters, they work to help them heal, physically and mentally.

“So the first thing we immediately do, when we have any type of cruelty, neglect or dog fighting case is always, look for immediate, like medical needs. Whether it’s sickness, injury or an animal is underweight, appears to be malnourished or dehydrated,” Shander said.

“Getting them on the road to getting them physically healthy and our staff works with them, acquainting them with being treated kindly. You know, helping them, just interact with people,” Louk said.

If you believe dog fighting may be going on in your area, you can call and report it to the humane agency for your county:

  • Animal Charity Humane Society: (330) 788-1064
  • Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County: (330) 539-5300
  • Columbiana County Humane Society: (234) 575-7177

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