Some good news on a topic laden with horror: Last Friday, the ASPCA helped end the torture of hundreds of abused dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas and brought to justice those who -- for profit and perverse pleasure -- betrayed and defiled the trust that connects humans and animals.
In an operation that involved 16 animal welfare organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, as well as at least 10 federal and state law enforcement agencies, 367 dogs across multiple locations in the Southeast were seized in the second-largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history.
I spent several years overseeing the ASPCA's anti-cruelty group, where I witnessed or heard firsthand accounts of unspeakable acts of cruelty, but rarely have I encountered suffering of this size and scope. Dogs ranging in age from several days to 12 years were found emaciated and bearing typical scars of dog fighting, and left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Some were tethered by chains and cables to cinder blocks and car tires. Remains of dead animals were also discovered where the dogs were housed and allegedly fought.
These are the tell-tale signs of the horrors of dog fighting, the ultimate betrayal of the unique relationship that exists between humans and animals. Manipulating a dog's intense desire to please its owner, perpetuating a life of chronic and acute physical and psychological pain, is the most horrific form of animal abuse.
The only consolation to this tragedy was the fact that, for the long-suffering animals who survived, lives of brutal torture and neglect had come to an end, and days of medical care and attention were about to start. Never again would they be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of bare necessities. No animal on earth -- much less those often described as "man's best friend" -- should have to endure such brutality at the hand of man.
As part of our raid, which we assisted at the request of the United States Attorney's Office and the FBI, federal and local officials also seized firearms, drugs, and over $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities. All of these efforts were the result of a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police.
Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. If convicted, they could each face up to five years in prison.
I believe these atrocities and the subsequent results will have positive and practical reverberations that will make a difference. For one thing, it shows how different organizations can collaborate -- each doing what it does best -- to save and protect the lives of animals. And that collaboration continues: Earlier last week, the ASPCA announced a groundbreaking new partnership with the New York City Police Department, whereby the NYPD will take primary responsibility for enforcement of New York State animal cruelty laws. The effort starts September 1 in the Bronx, and rolls out citywide in early 2014.
The raid also elevates the issue of dog fighting -- a reprehensible and vile activity -- to people who will not only be appalled, but moved to share news and information, and fight for common-sense legislation. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but that doesn't seem to stop the atrocity. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, which would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight, expanding the implications of participation in this terrible crime.
I'm very proud that we saved these animals, and the unprecedented ways we did. This is not the last dog fighting ring we'll break up, but you can be sure we'll be working hard until the day we can finally say it is.
Matthew Bershadker is President & CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Learn more about the ASPCA's mission and programs at ASPCA.org.