The Maryland attorney general's office and the Humane Society of the United States are to announce today an increase in rewards for people who provide law enforcement authorities with information on illegal dogfighting events in Maryland and across the country.
Coming on the first anniversary of NFL quarterback Michael Vick's federal indictment on dogfighting charges, the move will double the money offered for information leading to arrests and convictions, from $2,500 to $5,000.
"We're making a concerted effort to eliminate dogfighting," said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States.
Since Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges in August last year and was sentenced to 23 months in prison, Goodwin said, the humane society reports that arrests involving dogfighting have tripled across the nation and that the society has paid out 20 rewards this year. The money comes from a donation from the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation, based in Hogansville, Ga.
Goodwin said many people are scared to come forward with tips, but Vick's indictment brought widespread attention to the issue. "We want to offer people an incentive," Goodwin said, adding that informant's confidentiality will be protected.
Today's announcement is to be made by Goodwin and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler at the Humane Society of Baltimore County in Reisterstown.
Bob Anderson, director of animal control for Baltimore City, said his office gets tips from neighbors, and injured dogs are sometimes found in abandoned buildings. "Sometimes we don't get direct answers," he said, adding that even scant information can "point us in the right direction."
Police Sgt. Tammy Moore, director of the city's dog-fighting task force, described dogfighting as an "underground" activity in which owners and players don't advertise. She said she has heard of organizers changing the location up to an hour before a fight is scheduled.
According to the humane society Web site, dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states. A conviction in Maryland can result in a prison term up to three years and a $5,000 fine. Possession of a fighting dog also is considered a felony, while attending a dogfight is a misdemeanor, with possible jail time up to 90 days and up to $1,000 in fines.
Moore said police will occasionally find "bait" dogs, which are used to train the competitive fighting dogs; the "bait" dogs are kept in small crates, are often malnourished and have unhealed wounds. She said she has found a dog with an ear missing. Goodwin said he has heard of a case where a female pit bull had its bottom jaw ripped off, but the owners kept her for breeding.
"It's pretty gruesome," Moore said. But "the people involved don't see it as doing something wrong."
While many of the dogs in Vick's case were taken to other states for rehabilitation, Anderson said, the city doesn't have the money to do so, and the dogs are euthanized.
"It's truly a blood sport," Moore said.