The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter has assumed responsibility for dozens of dogs seized in a major dogfighting operation that was raided by police in mid-December, shelter officials said Wednesday.
The animals, considered evidence in the case that led to indictments of 22 alleged members of the dogfighting ring, are being cared for at undisclosed locations. They are not currently available for adoption, said the shelter's executive director, Jennifer Brause.
The dogs have various medical needs, and experts say they may suffer from behavioral problems that require rehabilitation because of the cruelty they endured.
On the day that Baltimore police raided various locations in connection with the investigation, the shelter took in about 70 dogs involved in the fighting ring, Brause said — a huge number compared to the 15 to 20 dogs the shelter gets on a typical day.
Over the course of the yearlong police investigation, the shelter took in a total of more than 200 dogs and worked with other organizations to place them in safe locations, Brause said. She wouldn't say whether any of the dogs had to be euthanized.
While the shelter has received inquiries from people asking how they can help the animals, the dogs cannot be adopted now because the case has not been prosecuted, she said.
"At this point, they are considered evidence, and once they become available, we will let the public know," Brause said. "Hopefully, we can encourage people to adopt other animals so we can put our resources where they're needed most, with these dogs."
While the public often inquires about animals rescued in publicized dogfighting cases, those caring for them can't release such information "for the protection of the animals" while criminal cases are open, said Justin Scally, national director for humane intervention and emergency services at the American Humane Association.
A team from the association's Red Star Animal Emergency Services helped BARCS staff care for the animals after the raids.
"We can't jeopardize the case by releasing evidence of the case," Scally said. "We want to make sure that once they're able to be released, that they're not subjected to any other type of cruel situation."
Scally said that in addition to physical injuries, dogs involved in fighting endure psychological wounds and could have behavioral problems, such as aggression.
"These animals have gone through horrible, horrible ordeals," Scally said, adding that cruelty to animals is often linked to other violent crimes. "Our hope is that these animals will be on the mend and that those responsible will be held accountable."
Most of the dogs in the Baltimore case were pit bulls, authorities say. Evidence seized in the case included a dozen firearms, numerous treadmills, breaking sticks, heavy chains, steroids and bloodstained dogfighting rings.
BARCS officials say that each animal will be individually assessed for placement, and they hope most can be placed in adoptive homes after rehabilitation.
"Thankfully, a lot of them are puppies and will be easily placed," Brause said.
Aileen Gabbey, executive director of the Maryland SPCA, which also has helped BARCS staff care for the seized dogs, said in an email that pets who are subjected to cruelty "likely go without even the most basic needs such as regular veterinary care and positive interactions with people."
"Rather than living in a safe and loving home, pets in these circumstances may be considered merely property or subjected to terrible conditions," she said, adding that if the animals are injured, "immediate and ongoing medical care is needed, in addition to recuperation."
"If they are fearful or under-socialized, rehabilitation can be effective, but requires a lot of time, experience, and patience," Gabbey said.