A massive dog fighting ring raid in Alabama and Georgia is the second-largest such bust in U.S. history

It’s been six years since football player Michael Vick rocked the country and the NFL with the discovery that he ran an interstate dog fighting ring, and had personally tortured over 70 dogs – mostly pit bulls – for not performing up to his expectations. Indicted on federal and state charges for the five-year, Virginia-based operation, including dog fighting, high-stakes gambling and the extremely cruel execution of dogs (which included hanging, drowning, shooting and electrocuting them, usually after torturing them first), Vick served a 21-month prison sentence before returning to his pro football career.

Dog Fighting More Widespread Than Once Realized

Although the bust and indictments certainly sent shock waves across the country along with outrage over his horrendous animal abuse (and that of several colleagues), Americans may not have realized exactly how prevalent these huge illegal dog fighting rings really are- often also encompassing millions in gambling wagers and extensive drug activity – both in rural areas of the Deep South and beyond, as well as in urban areas across the country, where gangs often become involved.

So it may have come as a shock when 367 dogs – many starved, flea-ridden, and severely dehydrated, held captive with massive chains in grueling outdoor heat – were seized by Feds recently in what is being called the second-largest dog fighting raid and bust in U.S. history. Even more shocking, to some, was the revelation that many of these dogs were actually stolen family pets. Although some of the accused did have breeding operations, many of the fighting dogs had probably once lain in their own dog beds in someone’s home.

The seizures took place mostly in Alabama and Georgia, and Auburn, Alabama police are now asking anyone in the area whose pit bulls went missing to check in and see if their dogs were among those seized.

“We will take all of the contact information and forward that to (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),” Auburn Police Chief Paul Register said. Owners will need to provide the ASPCA with a description, as well as when the dog disappeared and where it was stolen from.

Authorities Cooperated on Sting

The arrest of 12 suspects in the bust, following the execution of 13 search warrants in both Alabama and Georgia, was announced during a post-sting press conference. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies all worked together to expedite the raid. All the confiscated dogs are now being held in secure and undisclosed locations under the care and auspices of the ASPCA. As with the Vick and other recovered dog-fighting ring animals, they will all need extensive medical, as well as behavioral, rehabilitation to recover. Several of the Vick dogs were adopted following this process and some achieved national stature for their ability to remain loving, despite such horrific and abusive treatment.

While he won’t say exactly how the ring was uncovered, police chief Register says it dates back three years, when a cooperative effort with the FBI was initiated. Register said drug activity is a common co-criminal aspect to these massive dog fighting operations.

“When you investigate drug cases, you can run into something like this going on,” he said.

Besides the 367 seized dogs, authorities recovered weapons, narcotics, and even drugs that were used to “train” the dogs. They also recovered close to $500,000; U.S. Attorney George Beck said in his post-raid press conference that bets on these dog fights would typically run between $5,000 and $200,000 for a single fight.

The fight ring – which operated as far West as Texas – shows what a massive problem this has become as a sub-culture across the United States.

But Chris Schindler, who is manager of animal fighting investigations for Humane Society of the United States, says he thinks this sting may at least put a dent in the dog fight ring business.

“I absolutely think this is going to send shock waves through the dog fighting community, ” Schindler said. “It is going to put people on notice.”