Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dog Fighting “Legend” Deserves Maximum Sentence, Federal Appeals Court Holds

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)
Rather, they are defenders of a tradition that has existed for centuries and that has been part of American culture from the very beginning, protectors of a type of dog that will fight to the death, a dog that will valiantly defend its master after the liberals have taken all his guns away.  They call themselves “dogmen” and honor the bloodlines of their champions, exchange bronze plaques with crude images of dogs (there were once silver dogs on pedestals but law enforcement has reduced profit margins and, in any case, require that too many outsiders know the reason for the trophy), tell stories of dogs that fought a hundred times, two hundred times (though many of those fights were against new dogs that did not have the will to fight and cowered into submission before being electrocuted as an unnecessary expense, and worse, as evidence that may increase a fine or prison time).  Most of all they are patriots, often proud to be veterans, abandoned by their country for their participation in unpopular wars, true Americans who must live behind barbed-wire fences and gates, down driveways with more NO TRESPASSING and ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK signs than anyone can count, remnants of another time, believers in the righteousness of their cause for whom you are an enemy, always have been and always will be. 

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)
“[I]t is hardly a sport. Hardly a sport. It is a brutal, sadistic event motivated by barbarism of the worst sort and cruelty of the worst sadistic kind. One is left wondering: who are the real animals--the creatures inside the ring or the creatures outside the ring? The depravity of dog fighting is a multimillion-dollar business that involves training innocent, vulnerable creatures to kill--to kill--and putting them in a ring to be killed or to kill for the entertainment and/or the profit of their owners and other spectators.” (C-Span has posted a video of the entire speech.)

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.

Georgia, 1983

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 (
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said that although “the sentencing guidelines are only advisory, improper calculation of a guideline range constitutes significant procedural error, making the sentence procedurally unreasonable and subject to being vacated.”  The guidelines are a framework or starting point, which must be considered, but this does not prevent a substantively reasonable variation, which the Fourth Circuit said could be up to 60 months.  “Given the record before us, we cannot conclude that the court's exercise of its sentencing discretion in imposing a 60–month sentence is unreasonable.” The circuit court affirmed the sentence. 

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)
For Hargrove in his own words, see a blog interview posted February 15, 2012 (the date of the interview might be different).  In one section of the interview, Hargrove is asked what he thinks is the future of dog fighting.  His answer is defiant, but admittedly practical:

“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.")


  1. The people who participate in dog fighting are soulless individuals and should be euthanized as a disgrace to our species

    1. especially if they use the Michael Vick methods of "euth"

    2. I knew a guy that went to jail for dog fighting. He is a total scum bag piece of shit. "Dogmen" are pieces of shit, and I hope they all get cancer (whichever type is most painful).

    3. You scumbag liberals give people gay rights totally again't the bible but yet you label dog men as scum of the earth ignorant people should know that child molesters get less prison time than the honorable dogmen..all child molesters should be tortured and killed..the humane society are all liars and lie to get legislation passed

    4. You cowards hide behind real name is people judge dogmen..who the hell are you to judge anyone?only God can judge. You want letting dogs fight.which by the way you can't make these dogs fight as they willingly do it like two boxers and the fight is over when one quits just like a boxer throws in the want to make it a murder charge? What about the child molesters? Why not kill all of those people which by the way they get less prison time than the dog men..get a life people and leave these men alone

    5. You're sick. Child molesters are sick but people who pit creatures against eachother to the death or approve of it are as sick. I say death penalty for both types of fucking psychotic wackjobs.

    6. No a dog does not fight because he likes it, a dog does it to pleased and protect his owner. Same owner that is the beast who abuse his life for profit. Yes just a person with mental and psychological issues will think is right to fight the death an innocent life. Not just that, if they survive they keep fighting them forever! This is the most inhumane and rotten act of evilness I have ever seen. This animals have the intellect of a four to a seven year old child. Murder charge is right! These people are among us and humans that lack moral values and lack empathy for the pain of an innocent, won't stop there. Most animals abusers are violent towards family and those are the people that end up killing humans. They are dangerous individuals to society.

  2. People who do this for pleasure must either be possessed (demonic) or mentally ill. Anyone that is normal would not receive pleasure from inflicting such pain and suffering on an innocent animal that instinctively only wants to love its owner and to please. (Yeah thats why the dogs do it, to please their owner who does not deserve it!)

    These people MUST be so very "lacking" and have no respect for themselves. What a terrible childhood they must have had to turn out like this. How very sad. I wonder how their present family feels about their obnoxious activities...hmm.

    I totally pity these people because they cannot see the beauty in a well trained and loved family dog.

    Please lock them up and throw away the key. I can still pity them when they are in jail.

  3. Lame laws give people the "permission" to continue animal abuse.

  4. First off y in the WORLD is dog fighting in the states within the Fourth Circuit—Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina the only ones that have the stricter laws for dog fighting?!?!? y isn't it that all 53 states/Countries have the same laws in place for this event and any other animal cruelity case??? Not saying that the "laws" if u want to call them that r good and going 2 resolve this issue... " I would call that a slap on the wrist! then they get out a year to five years later and start up again " no skin off their backs" not to mention if their what they think they r and want to address themselves as such " Big Time Players" that they either appeal and get out early or r taken care of by one of their own example their right hand "man", spectators who look up 2 them, close friends and family, that probably have also reaped the rewards of the money won in these events, taking care of these offenders while their suppose 2 b "jailed" meaning u shoudn't get etra things and b able 2 sit pretty and b comfortable the whole time of their "sentance".... I realize the reality of these cases with all animals is repetious and a danting task but if there is any way 2 fix this the 1st thing they should do when finding these "rings" is make the offense a murder charge! then continue with law enforcment and the help of others as ASPCA, humane society ect. and u as people of Ameriaca who believe in animals r our equals then u will fight also and hopefully win!!!!

  5. Anyone involved in this type of "sport" are psycos, should all be put away for life, they are very mentally ill. They have no hearts, cold, selfish, greedy with no thought of what these beautiful animals are going through. One of the biggest problems is that these so-called people are charged and get a slap on the wrist, laugh it off and start all over again. Put them all away. Perhaps the legal system as well as the police departments need to make a lot of changes

  6. Very good news. The longer the sentence, the better. These Neanderthals need to be in prison for a long time and send a message to the next generation, that the time is over for being a barbarian. Those dogs have more class than any of these so-called humans.

    1. indeed! to make an innocent fight for their lives 100 or 200 times! How on earth we allow these?

  7. I own a pit bull, she is the most tender loving dog I've ever had. She sleeps with my children. The best nanny ever. These dogs need to feel like they have a job a purpose. Even if its just companion. Dogs want to be wanted. They only know what they r showed.. my heart brakes over this. I wish I could rescue more pit bulls... my house just isn't big enough for us to expand right now...

    1. Yes pit bulls are real angels because their are pure souls! There is nothing more contrasting than dog fights because you can see the level of evil that humans are capable of for their greed and on the other side, you can see a misunderstood innocent baby completely devoted and loyal to his abuser. Their angel faces completely destroyed are the mirror of what we are as humanity! People wonder why we have so much misery in the world and they don't see that is clearly what we have created and what we allow! Violence will always bring more violence! What happens to animals affects humans, because what happens to animals is us, is who we are and what we do!

  8. This is an excellent and comprehensive report/blog. Thank you, John.

    From time to time, I've reflected on the character and psyche of dog fighters, their tolerance for extreme cruelty and their peculiar way of seeking vicarious thrills from the brutality in the ring. The justifications are not unlike cockfighters in that they claim to be merely allowing fighting animals to act according to their courageous nature. Cognitive dissonance. Neither fighting dogs nor fighting roosters can exist outside of the artificial environment in which genetically aberrant behavior is enhanced though decades of selective breeding. (The dogs must be carefully muzzled and restrained even during breeding attempts.)

    Harry Hargrove is (was) one of the most hateful people I ever had the displeasure of meeting. Jack Kelly, the judge at the fight and then editor of the underground dogfighting magazine, Sporting Dog Journal, was more coolly detached but of a similar determination.

    I am very encouraged by the greater focus from law enforcement and our courts in recent years.

    Marc Paulhus

  9. all people who fight their dogs to the death should be put in the same situation .And then if they survive .Should then spend rest of life taking a beating everyday with no medical treatment in jail for rest of life with no chance of parole.And jst getting fed on dog snap 1 tin a day

  10. Dog fighting should be illegal and those that do it should be prosecuted under law. But in regards to the stupid comments from idiots such as the one above putting forward that these people should be tortured or beaten for it are also scumbags and are just as bad and sick in the head as those that fight dogs.

  11. dogs are not meant to be dog fighters unless the cops use them but this crazy and cops should give these people that do this fines and dogs getting hurt because of this this is animal cruelty

  12. dogs are not meant to be dog fighters unless the cops use them but this crazy and cops should give these people that do this fines and dogs getting hurt because of this this is animal cruelty

  13. dogs are not meant to be dog fighters unless the cops use them but this crazy and cops should give these people that do this fines and dogs getting hurt because of this this is animal cruelty

  14. I was a Mitchell County Deputy Sheriff in 1983 and participaed in the raid at Harry Hargrove's property. I remember the trial and prospective jurors were questioned by an Atlanta attorney who represented Hargrove, Swetman, and Kelly, as usual in jury selection. When a elderly man was asked what he thought of the defendants he stated "I feel right sorry for them". When pressed by the defense attorney what he meant he stated " Because fighting dogs is a mighty bad thing to get caught doing". I was so proud of the citizens of Mitchell county for convicting these three ring leaders. I think the sentences imposed fit the crime and do not agree with those suggesting the accused should be tortured or killed. The dog fighting community in a strange sub culture which I will never understand.

  15. On the subject of dog fighting it's abveously cruel but ,to say they need to be treated as murders and be killed or tortured is just ignorant you sound like hypocrites if u eat meat, hunt,and think people or only certain animals should be killed for what they do or that they're a nucince to society such as dear,boars,even rats ,etc....... the list goes on .....then it's ok to kiil them and get rid of them ,if your gonna fight for animal rights then fight for all of them don't pick n choose which one suits you and if you look back in time and to present day all man (human) are psychotic in there own way just for thinking of someone should be killed or tortured is psychoticly thinking and makes you a hypocrite and if you read about dog fighting you will see that all types of people fought animal. lawyers,police,fireman,political figures,these fights were attended by the nobles n educated people so understand what you are talking about before commenting on anything and also to put a animals life above a human is inhuman and unconstitutional ,if your gonna fight for something how about helping are veterans who fight for your right to speak your mind ,there are more animal rights activists,and funding to help shelter animals and abused animals then there is for veterans