By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
Somewhere in the Mahoning Valley, on virtually every weekend and more often in warmer months, there is an impromptu dogfight being conducted, and officials are constantly trying to put an end to the activity.
One of the most recent examples of dogfighting discovered in the area occurred at a house on the South Side where several dogs were found in deplorable conditions. The West Myrtle Avenue home contained makeshift fighting rings and areas where the dogs were being held.
Dave Nelson, deputy dog warden for Mahoning County, said concerned citizens were instrumental in helping officials identify and handle the house, but the problem exists across the area, and the dog warden’s office and police are constantly chasing down the offenders.
Janette Reever, deputy manager of animal fighting for the Humane Society, said the number of people nationally involved in the illegal, clandestine world of dogfighting is astounding.
“There is estimated to be 40,000 people involved in professional dogfighting where they are doing this full time,” she said. “That is not including the amateurs and street-level people just getting involved in this activity.”
Nelson said most fights are set up on the spur of the moment with a text message or call from a cellphone. Those involved simply give a time and a place, and the fight is on.
There often are bets placed on the outcome of the fight, but Nelson said the money is not the driving force in smaller areas such as Youngstown with impromptu fights.
“It’s a problem with the younger backyard and basement dogfighters that is drawing the attention of people,” he said. “Here, it is more for the blood, gore and excitement of seeing these dogs tear each other apart. Down in larger areas like Columbus, it’s a big-money thing, and they are much more organized.”
Nelson said he has heard stories of dogfighters getting involved in “trunking,” where two large dogs are placed in the trunk of a car while the music is turned up and the car is driven around for 20 minutes. The dog still alive in the trunk is the winner.
Gwen Logan, executive dog warden for Trumbull County, said dogfighting in the county is less prevalent and not as often seen as in neighboring counties.
“There is a problem here, but it is more under the radar,” she said. “We are on the lookout for it and very much aware of the signs of dogfighting.”
Nelson said one difficulty in stopping the dogfighting in any area is manpower.
Because the fights are set up on a moment’s notice, he said, it can be difficult for law enforcement to organize and go in to stop it before the fighting is over and the responsible parties are long gone.
Nelson said most people involved also will have the fights in the late-night hours in obscure locations where they are less likely to be noticed or caught.
Logan and Nelson said manpower is the key to better combating the problem but understand how busy officers are.
Reever said the lives of animals involved in the world of dogfighting is miserable. She said most dogs are left out in the weather attached to heavy chains between fights.
“It’s like a jail sentence or sitting on a death sentence,” she continued. “They know they will either die on the chain, be killed in a fight or killed after the fight if they do not perform well.”
Reever added that only dogs who “earn their keep” by repeatedly being bred live long in the dogfighting world. Those dogs, she said, also face a miserable existence tied to a heavy chain until they are strapped to a dog-breeding stand for mating purposes.
Nelson and Reever said it is imperative that the general public help officials combat the problem by being aware of suspicious activity, such as people congregating with large groups of dogs, dog activity at obscure abandoned places, reporting on stolen dogs, and dogs that appear to have combat wounds and injuries.
“This is a problem all over the country, and it’s been going on since the beginning of time. All you can do is keep up the groundwork and follow up from there,” Nelson said. “It makes me concerned, and I have to get out the information so people know what to look for.”
Dogfighting came to the national forefront five years ago when NFL quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement for his involvement in a dogfighting ring that had operated for years.