Scary how far reaching this case is
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/17/07
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TRENTON The first time Cathy McGuire's real estate agent showed her the log cabin in the woods that would become her home, she saw signs that dogs had been mistreated there.
An animal-cruelty investigator who runs an animal rescue Web site, McGuire immediately spotted evidence of dogfighting the previous owners left behind: a bloody basement sink, vats of a topical antiseptic used to treat puncture wounds, pedigree dog ownership certificates, a bloodstained concrete floor and 60 wire cages out back.
"Of all the houses I could have walked into, it was ironic I walked into that place . . .," said McGuire.
By all accounts, dogfighting is an ongoing and vexing problem throughout New Jersey and elsewhere. It has attracted national attention recently because of allegations that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick ran a dogfighting enterprise and may have taken part in dogfights in New Jersey. Plea hearings for two co-defendants are scheduled for Friday.
Although the Vick indictment renewed outrage against the long-established blood sport, it hasn't dissuaded its many participants, according to animal authorities.
"We haven't stopped them," Sy Goldberg, an officer with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said of owners who engage in dogfighting.
"The Michael Vick publicity has only made them go deeper underground and with more security," he said.
Animal-cruelty investigations typically are handled by the SPCA or animal-cruelty investigators in municipalities that have them, authorities said.
Goldberg, who teaches a course for fellow agents on how to recognize evidence of dogfighting, said underground breeding and fighting is hard to catch and expensive to prosecute.
Authorities say they have found fighting pits deep in the woods in South Jersey, in backyards and basements in suburbia and vacant warehouses in the cities. Just last week, authorities found a dogfighting ring in the basement of a suburban Salem County home, Goldberg said, following a tip from a landlord who had been called to do a repair.
Sometimes dogfights Adminse as rival gang members try to prove their toughness through their dogs; other fights are organized enterprises that can command a $500 entry fee just to watch and bet, said Steven Bordi, vice president of the New Jersey Certified Animal Control Officers Association and a cruelty investigator in Camden. Purses can be as high as $20,000 or more.
The scope of dogfighting in New Jersey is hard to quantify.
The anticruelty agency created a major crimes unit six months ago, which is charged with investigating dogfighting and cockfighting allegations. In that time, it has completed five raids, stopping two live dogfights. Earlier this year, the SPCA began offering a $1,000 tip to anyone who provides information leading to the conviction of those perpetuating animal fighting.
The SPCA recorded 25 dogfighting cases last year.
McGuire's story has come to be all too familiar, said Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, who has proposed tougher dogfighting penalties in New Jersey.
His proposal would make engaging in animal fighting punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines. Current law imposes up to five years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
The Union County Democrat also has asked Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate the New Jersey connection to the Vick case. Her office, which does not comment on investigations, would not say whether it had begun such a probe.
McGuire said she decided to tell her story now, three years after moving to Winslow Township, Camden County, in hopes the former homeowners still will be prosecuted and the dogs they hurriedly moved South with can be removed from their care.
"I don't know why people think dogfighting didn't exist," she said, "but those of us who are in that sphere definitely knew it did."
Cathy & Zimmer