How do dog fighters see themselves? Not as gambling and meth addicts with a passion for the sight of dog blood, not as dog trainers whose dogs are chained in rows and exercised on treadmills before which are suspended struggling cats a dog is allowed to kill and eat after a good training session, not as inebriated men who stand around a pit lined with plywood planks while two dogs gradually remove the flesh from each other for two hours, not as dog breeders who put down those dogs that have not fought well by hanging them from hooks and attaching jumper cables to their heads and stomachs until they stop squirming from the shocks, not as canine undertakers who fill pits on farms and abandoned cars in vacant lots with dog carcasses which are then covered or burned to destroy the evidence of their crimes. This is not how they see themselves.
|Chained Fighting Dog (courtesy Peta)|
Just find their blogs and websites, which have replaced the handbills once posted in gun shops and bars when dog fighting was only nominally illegal, law enforcement an occasional nuisance when someone on a board decided the county’s reputation was affecting real estate prices and the possibility of getting a chain store. There are no announcements of upcoming events on these sites—you have to be trusted and know whom to call to get that information—but past fights may be described in detail. Not that they will admit that the accounts are real, because there is always a sentence in the running head saying something like, ALL ACCOUNTS ARE FICTIONAL AND SHOULD BE VIEWED AS SUCH.
How Do Dog Fighters Describe a Fight?
The following description of a fight can be found on a blog devoted to APBT, the American Pit Bull Terrier:
“[A dog named Benny Bob] went out to California and was matched into Ralph Greenwood’s JIMMIE BOOTS. That was the most vicious and best fights I’ve ever seen. It was like when you were watching it you knew it couldn’t go on another five minutes. It was really like two full grown men with icepicks and you knew it just couldn’t go on any further, but that five minutes would pass and then you knew for sure it was impossible to go on another five minutes. The whole fight was like that…you knew it had to be over because no two dogs could take that kind of punishment…. After the fight I would have bet you $100 that it didn’t last longer than twenty minutes, that’s how exciting it was, but it lasted nearly two hours with JIMMY BOOTS being the winner.’” (emphasis added)
The blog refers to this as a good story, two dogs destroying each other for two hours. The quotation is attributed to Bobby Hall, a dog fighting legend. The interviewer describes Hall’s house as containing “many trophies, pictures, and other memories of yesterdays Champions and other well known dogs from the past when dog fighting was not yet a felony and a popular spectator sport.”
As to the claim that the activity is a sport, one can find no better refutation than that given by Robert Byrd, Senator from West Virginia, on the floor of the Senate shortly after Michael Vick was arrested:
|Dog Fight (original source unknown)|
Harry Louis Hargrove
One dog fighting legend who cannot claim that the accounts of his fights are fictional is Harry Louis Hargrove, who has been convicted at least four times for dog-fighting offenses, most recently in a federal district court in North Carolina. By his own admission, Hargrove has been involved in dog fighting for over four decades and at one time owned upwards of 250 dogs.
Two prosecutions of Hargrove were for misdemeanors, in North Carolina in 1993 and 2001, as to which no opinions were issued, appeals being unnecessary because of the lack of deterrent value in the convictions. The two arrests that will be discussed here occurred in 1983 in Georgia and 2010 in North Carolina.
The Georgia Supreme Court describes what happened one early morning in Mitchell County, Georgia, in 1983:
"[L]aw enforcement officers from Mitchell County, Dougherty County and the GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] raided a dog fight being held in a wooded area on the property of [Harry] Hargrove during the early morning hours. Officers were staked out in the wooded area and converged on the pit area when sounds of dog yapping and moaning could be heard. They also overheard someone say, ‘I'll take five on that.’ When the officers converged on the scene Swetman was inside a square pit with two dogs which were bloodied with wounds on their legs and the head areas. There was blood on Swetman's arms and clothing. Hargrove was apprehended leaving the pit area and Kelly was found hiding in some bushes.”
A separate prosecution of four other men captured during the raid describes the scene of the arrests in more detail:
“[T]he Hargrove farm is located in a remote, rural area of Mitchell County which is accessible only by driving down a ‘long, dirt driveway.’ … When those present saw the officers approach, most fled into the surrounding area. Officers were then able to observe two bloodied and wounded pit bull terriers in the pit. A vast amount of paraphernalia, identified as equipment used in organized dog fighting, was found around the pit. Officers observed a number of other pit bull terriers tied up near the pit and in vehicles parked nearby the pit. The decomposed carcasses of dead animals wired to devices used to train dogs for the purpose of dog fighting were also observed near the pit.” (Barton v. Georgia, 253 Ga. 478 (1984))
Around 50 people were arrested at the scene with a total of $17,000 in cash in their possession.
Hargrove, Kelly and Swetman were indicted for the crimes of dog fighting, gambling, and commercial gambling. The fight took place on Hargrove’s property and under his direction. Kelly was the referee. Swetman furnished paraphernalia and acted as a dog handler. The jury convicted them on all charges, except Kelly was acquitted on the charge of commercial gambling.
One witness for the prosecution was Marc Paulhus, then southeastern director of the Humane Society of the United States, who has recently become a friend of mine. Paulhus accompanied the officers on the raid. His testimony was summarized by the Supreme Court:
“He testified as to the general nature of dogs trained to fight, specifically pit bulls, and how dog fights are booked and how fights between particular dogs are contracted in advance. He identified the uses of certain dog fighting paraphernalia seized on Hargrove's property. Weighing scales marked with Swetman's name were found near the pit. Paulhus testified that most contracts specify a fighting weight and therefore the dogs must be weighed before each match. Washtubs were seized at the scene which are used to wash the dogs before a fight to ensure that no poisoning or paralytic agents have been applied to the dogs' coats.”
Paulhus explained how certain items seized were used. Breaking sticks are used to pry open a dog’s mouth when they are separated during a fight. One was found in Hargrove’s pocket. Treadmills used for enduring and strength training, as was a “catmill,” a similar piece of exercise equipment in which cats or other small animals are used as bait.
The difficulty of establishing that gambling was involved was discussed in detail by the Georgia Supreme Court in an appeal from a separate trial of a man named William Greene. Greene argued that the evidence showing his involvement with the dog fight was wholly circumstantial. The court noted that Greene was “four hundred miles from his home, shortly after dawn, in a remote area of this state where dog fighting and gambling were taking place. Further, Greene was apprehended while standing directly next to a pit where dog fighting was underway with $899 on his person.” From this the jury could conclude, despite the circumstantiality of the evidence, that Greene was guilty of the offense of dog fighting. (Barton v. Georgia)
On appeal, Hargrove and two other men with whom he was tried attacked the constitutionality of Georgia’s dog fighting statute, which imposed a mandatory fine of $5,000 but could involve a prison sentence from one up to five years. The defendants argued that one clause in the statute, which makes it criminal when one “causes or allows a dog to fight another dog for sport or gaming purposes…”, was unconstitutionally vague because of the verb “allow.”
The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, saying that “allow” encompassed knowledge and consent:
“Thus if a person engages on any level in the planning or financing of the event, including paying an admission, providing a location or wagering on the event or if a person encourages the event by applause or cheering, such person violates the statute. The foregoing examples are not, however, intended to exclude other acts which cause the event to occur or contribute to its success.”
The court concluded that the statute was “sufficiently definite to put those of common intelligence on notice that knowing participation in a dog fighting event is prohibited.” The statute was not, in sum, unconstitutionally vague.
The defendants also argued that the punishment for the crime was excessive and violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. They cited states where dog fighting is a misdemeanor, with misdemeanor punishments applying. The court concluded that “a $5,000 fine with an optional one year in prison does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment for those convicted of dog fighting in the state.” “Optional” is a disturbing adjective in this sentence because it suggests the court was anxious to avoid criticism for the possibility of imposing any prison time at all.
The court also rejected an equal protection argument based on the fact that cockfighting was treated as a misdemeanor under Georgia’s animal cruelty statute, noting that the “legislature has a wide discretion in the exercise of its police power in setting classifications and penalties.”
Hargrove v. Georgia, 253 Ga. 450, 321 S.E.2d 104 (1984)
North Carolina, 2010
Hargrove’s most recent problems began because neighbors in Duplin County, North Carolina, ceased to be amused by the fights he conducted on his property. Hargrove then made the mistake of selling an American Pit Bull Terrier to an undercover informant. He demonstrated the dog’s prowess to the informant by fighting it with another dog on his property. This justified a search warrant under which police seized 34 dogs that were eventually euthanized because of poor health, aggressive tendencies, or both. A fighting pit on the property was soaked in blood. Also seized during the raid were break sticks, modified jumper cables used to electrocute dogs, a blood-covered treadmill with wooden sides, a springpole used to build up a dog’s leg and jaw muscles, a “jenny,” used to increase a dog’s stamina by having it run for long periods while chasing bait, animal medicines, and hundreds of canine pedigrees. A debris pit was filled with, among other things, dog carcasses.
Hargrove was charged under 7 U.S.C. 2156(b), a section in the U.S. Agricultural Code titled “Animal Fighting Venture Prohibition.” Criminal penalties for violations of the agricultural law are provided in 18 U.S.C. Section 49, which specifies that violations of the animal fighting law may be imprisoned for not more than five years. Hargrove pled guilty to the charge. A probation officer calculated his advisory guideline range to be 10 to 16 months. Hargrove argued he should get no more than six months. The federal prosecutor filed a motion for an upward departure from the range provided under sentencing guidelines, citing Hargrove’s “extraordinary cruelty to animals, extreme conduct, and the inadequacy of Hargrove’s criminal history category.” The prosecutor submitted documentary and photo exhibits that detailed the condition of the dogs seized from Hargrove’s property, a video clip of the demonstration fight Hargrove arranged for the undercover informant, and photos taken during the execution of the search warrant on Hargrove’s property.
The trial judge asked the government for additional evidence in support of the motion for an upward departure of the sentencing range under the guidelines. The government presented the testimony of Special Agent Mark Barnhart, who described the tools of the dog fighting trade that trainers use to increase a dog’s aggressiveness and stamina and detailed the injuries that dogs often sustain during fights. The prosecutor requested that the court impose the statutory maximum term of 60 months.
Hargrove’s counsel argued that his client was a highly decorated military veteran who had been changed by his experience in Vietnam. Hargrove himself addressed the judge, “stating that he thought his involvement in dog fighting was wrong and that he had been backing away from it for years.”
The trial court acknowledged Hargrove was a military veteran who had provided heroic service to his country, but noted that he chose to “discard all of that for this life of brutality and life of cruelty.” Dog fighting became “the most prominent, distinguishing characteristic of his life,” and the court questioned whether the defendant appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct.
The trial court, the Eastern District of North Carolina (see map of the Fourth Circuit), imposed a sentence of 60 months.
|Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (USCourts.gov)|
Reaction of the Dog fighting Community
Reacting to a blog account of Hargrove’s arrest in 2010, one commenter stated:
“Such a piece of sh*t blog. This is just sad. If you think about the poor guy’s might be in jail or under ‘supervision’ til he dies. Arresting a 78YO man!!! Another great one is done for…” (asterisk in original blog)
Dog fighters take a page from the National Rifle Association playbook. They see anti-pit bull legislation as leading to the banning of all potential breeds used in dog fighting, much as the NRA sees a ban on assault weapons as leading to a ban on firearms altogether. Dog fighters argue that large dogs may be the last line of defense for the American family after all the guns are taken away. All this is stated on the site from which the description of the dog fight at the beginning of this blog are taken. In particular, play the video labeled “Sean Kennedy is the fucking man!”, posted February 3, 2007.
There is one major difference between the dog fighters and the NRA, however. The NRA’s lobbying power is opposed by no anti-gun organization of anywhere near comparable size and influence, whereas the dog fighters are up against far better funded anti-cruelty organizations.
Hargrove’s Prediction for the Future of Dog fighting
|Dog after Fight (original source unknown)|
“With the law the way they are it all looks kind of downhill, but if you keep going go in a small groups. Don't go to the bars talking, don't advertise anything you doing to anybody, keep it to yourself. Go do your thing, do your best and you will come home a winner.”
Dog fighting criminals are on notice that at least in the states within the Fourth Circuit—Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina—they should expect little leniency. Congress could help this along by passing section 12213 of the Agricultural Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), which would criminalize attending or causing a minor to attend an “animal fighting venture.” Attending, under this legislative proposal, could bring a sentence of up to one year in prison, while causing a minor to attend could bring a sentence of up to three years. The bill has passed the Senate. Maneuvering in the House will say something about whether dog fighters still have friends in that body.
Michael Vick’s conviction and the prison time he served had the benefit of telling the world that this criminal activity will no longer be tolerated, at least in some jurisdictions, even for those who can afford good defense lawyers. (See the prior discussion of sentences in an Illinois federal dog fighting case, U.S. v. Berry.) As New York City discovered, vigorous prosecution of crimes does not just move a criminal enterprise to a new location. It often ends it. That will happen here if more police, more prosecutors, and more courts pursue dog fighting seriously.
U.S. v. Hargrove, 701 F.3d 156 (Fourth Circuit, 2012)
Thanks to L.E. Papet, Eric Krieger, Kingsbury Parker, Bart Sherwood, and Fran Breitkopf for comments and corrections. Thanks to Jenny Woods of Peta for helping me find the pictures of the victims of this horrid crime. The second and third photographs here may have originally been taken not by photographers who condemn dog fighting, but rather by dog fighters themselves to memorialize the prowess of particular dogs. For the New York City experience in eliminating crime, see Franklin E. Zimring, The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control (Oxford University Press, 2011). See also, Egan, V., and MacKenzie, J. (2012). Does Personality, Delinquency, or Mating Necessarily Dictate a Preference for an Aggressive Dog? Anthrozoos, 25(2), 161-170 ("Persons lower in Agreeableness, higher in Neuroticism and Conscientiousness, and of younger age actively preferred a dog perceived as aggressive.")