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Bail set at $2 million for owner of 43 pit bulls

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With his children placed in foster homes and his dogs locked up at an animal shelter, Leonardo W. Graham was ordered held in lieu of $2 million bail yesterday on charges stemming from a drug raid at his Essex home where police found 43 pit bulls.

An investigation was continuing into what police suspected to be a dogfighting operation -- a so-called sport that experts said has been turning up throughout the country. In San Francisco, investigators recently raided a warehouse and arrested 78 people in connection with a major dogfighting ring. In Texas, police charged a couple when a dogfighting ring, which included bleachers, was discovered in their home. In Prince George's County, animal control officials said the problem is a daily concern.

"Whether it's a couple guys in the street spontaneously getting together and seeing whose dog is meaner and tougher or whether it's a more organized crime effort, it's a tremendously common occurrence," said Ken White, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "Unfortunately, many people don't realize that."

The fate of 44 seized dogs -- the pit bulls, and one of unknown breed -- was undecided yesterday, but officials doubted that animals used for fighting could be "deprogrammed" and escape euthanasia.

At Mr. Graham's home in the 1500 block of Old Eastern Ave., his wife, Bonnie, said she never wanted to see a dog again.

"I did not want any of those dogs in my house," said Mrs. Graham, who refused to talk about her 8-year-old twins and 2-year-old son who were placed in temporary foster care yesterday by a juvenile court master at the request of the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.

"None of his dogs knew how to behave," Mrs. Graham said, "and there were the children . . . I told him I didn't want the dogs in the house. I didn't want to clean up the mess. But I would put them out and he'd bring them right back in. I screamed and hollered -- him and his dogs."

Mrs. Graham denied any knowledge of the dogs being used for spectator sport. She said her husband bred and sold the dogs -- one of which was giving birth to a litter of puppies in the basement as police staged the raid Wednesday night.

Essex neighbors said they had no inkling that dogfights may have been going on at the property where the Grahams have lived since July. Except for Prince George's County, officials in most Maryland jurisdictions said dogfighting is a rarity.

Dogfighting is a felony in all but eight states, says the Humane Society of the United States. Maryland is one of the exceptions. The practice is a misdemeanor offense here.

In March, police and animal control officers were led by an anonymous tip to a dogfighting event in San Francisco where people from six states brought their best dogs for a bloody competition. Police recovered seven dogs, two canine carcasses, $50,000, a large quantity of illegal drugs, several weapons and two trophies -- one for best of show and another for gamest of show (which refers to a dog's taste for a fight).

Police arrested 78 people on felony charges, and 23 felony indictments were handed down.

"These people were brazen enough to rent a warehouse about three blocks from the hall of justice and six blocks from the animal care and control center," said Carl Friedman, director of the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control.

"Dogfighting is not new, it's a major gambling event. Most people don't think dogfighting happens in urban areas. They think it only takes place in the boondocks. I didn't think it happened very much in our community on an organized scale, but we found that wasn't true. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people found out it was happening in their own community . . ."

Prince George's County officials said dogfighting is a "tremendous concern," with animal control workers picking up three or four pit bulls a week with obvious marks or scars.

"Leg wounds, head and neck wounds, bite wound scars, fur that is worn off on the leg and face, and injuries that are never treated," said George Whiting, chief of the Prince George's County animal shelter. "It's a terrible problem where man is intentionally pitting animal against animal. The training methods are conducted in a gross and obscene manner. Puppies and kittens are thrown in a cage with pit bulls."

Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Howard B. Merker said more charges are likely to be filed against Mr. Graham, who remained jailed on drug charges. Police said they seized 14 pounds of marijuana, a pound of cocaine, firearms and a stolen vehicle at his home.

His arrest was one of three at different sites in the area resulting from a six-month investigation.

"It appears that there is a basis to animal cruelty," said Mr. Merker. "I've seen some photographs and have heard about the condition that the dogs are in."

County police also were looking into a number of calls from city residents who said their dogs had been stolen and believed that they saw the pets on television after the raid.

The Essex property is behind Mars Estates Elementary School.

Principal Stephen W. Mackert said he was aware of and concerned about the presence of pit bulls -- but said he had no idea that there were so many dogs at the home.

Mr. Mackert said some students came to him and said they saw dogs attacking a dead dog that was hanging by a rope, but when he checked the next day, all he saw was a rope hanging in the yard. Nothing was hanging from it, but some of the dogs were attacking the rope.

County zoning officials said a July hearing had been scheduled before the raid for Mr. Graham in District Court on a charge of operating a kennel without a license. The zoning board began investigating the case in March after complaints.

James H. Thompson, supervisor of the Zoning Enforcement Division, said pictures were taken of the back yard where dogs were seen tied to trees and running around with tree branches dangling from their leashes. He said officials did not know there were so many dogs on the premises or that dogfighting might have taken place.

Officials at the county animal shelter said the dogs were received as "contraband" from the Police Department and were being kept in isolation -- away from the public -- to prevent inflaming passions, particularly among animal lovers.

Dr. Stephen Wilson, a veterinarian in Jarrettsville with extensive experience in dealing with pit bulls, said he doubted the dogs could be saved because of the risks involved.

"There's no way to know what could happen," he said. "A pit bull could be wagging his tail and kissing your face one moment, and in the next, turn around and tear another animal apart."

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