ST. LOUIS – As many as 350 dogs were seized and about 30 people arrested during raids in five U.S. states Wednesday that animal welfare groups are calling the largest simultaneous raid of dogfighting operations in America.
U.S. attorneys in four of the states announced related indictments accusing 26 people of cruelties ranging from denying animals medical treatment to shooting dogs in the head when they didn't fight well, then throwing their carcasses into a river or burning them in a barrel.
Task forces of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducted the raids and made arrests in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma following a more than year-long investigation prompted by information gathered by the Humane Society of Missouri. It wasn't clear whether or to what extent the operations were related.
Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri, said tips had come in from "multiple sources" about dogfighting, and anticruelty workers worked with federal authorities for 18 months.
"This heinous, heinous bloodsport is not going to be tolerated," she said.
The national Humane Society said there also were arrests in Arkansas associated with dogfighting, but no dogs were seized.
Dogfighting is banned throughout the United States and is a felony in all 50 states. A law enacted two years ago increased penalties for activities that promote or encourage animal fighting after a long campaign by animal-welfare groups.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, said dogfighting operations typically are not small acts of animal cruelty, but part of organized criminal networks.
"This was quite an operation and marks the latest in a series of actions that are driving dogfighting, we hope, off the cliff," Pacelle said.
The Humane Society of Missouri is sheltering more than 300 dogs — believed to be mostly pit bull terriers — seized in Missouri and Illinois raids and their conditions are being assessed. The dogs will be housed, cared for and evaluated at an undisclosed emergency shelter in St. Louis.
Jordan Crump, a spokesman with the Humane Society of the United States, said each dog seized in all the raids will be evaluated by behaviorial experts in hopes of placing as many as possible in adoptive homes. The same happened for the dogs seized from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels in the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback's dogfighting case. Animal welfare groups said most were able to be placed in homes or sent to an animal sanctuary.