I’ve written often about the horrors of the bloodsport of dogfighting, of the vile perpetrators of the horrific ‘sport’, of dogs being stolen for the possible use as ‘bait’ dogs. As these illegal activities become more and more widespread, the threat of it touching your life in some way becomes more of a reality than ever.

No longer confined to the southern states and backwoods areas, it’s moving into urban areas and small towns. Often gangs and violence and drugs and weapons go hand in hand with dogfighting.

If you adopt a homeless dog from one of the local rescue organizations, you might be surprised during the in-home screening. In addition to the usual pledges to keep your new pet fed, exercised and vaccinated, you’ll likely have to promise never to leave the dog unattended outdoors — even in a fenced yard. That’s because of a rise in the number of stolen household pets believed to be used as “bait” to train sport-fighting dogs.

Though the threat may be overblown — how many actual dognappings have occurred in your neighborhood? — it’s not imaginary. Once considered a relic of the rural South, dogfighting is increasingly a sport of urban gangbangers and drug dealers. The Humane Society of the United States says there are between 20,000 and 40,000 “professional” dogfighters nationwide, each with dozens of dogs. Pet-Abuse.com has documented more than 500 criminal dogfighting cases since 2000.

This year alone, Chicago police have charged more than a dozen people with felony dogfighting and seized more than 300 animals. Last week, Cook County sheriff’s officers charged a South Holland man with felony dogfighting and 37 counts of animal cruelty — one count for each of the dogs found in cages stacked in a dark barn behind his home. In April, investigators raided a Virginia farm owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and seized 55 pit bulls and equipment believed to be used to train them as fighters. No charges have been filed.

The point of a dogfight — or “the show,” as enthusiasts call it — is for two pathologically aggressive animals to go at it until one is dead or unable to keep fighting. Both are usually badly bloodied, and for obvious reasons aren’t likely to get quality veterinary care for their injuries. But the abuse isn’t limited to the fighting pit. The dogs are usually kept in crowded, clandestine quarters, caged or chained just far enough apart to keep them from mauling each other. Their training regimens include hours on a treadmill, in a pool or tied to the bumper of a moving car. They’re pumped up with steroids and amphetamines. Pups are schooled in brief training fights known as “rolls” before competing in a real fight, which can carry a six-digit purse.

Like so many trends, the boom in dogfighting has been fueled by the Internet. Animal activist sleuths who troll the sites report on a shadowy underground inhabited by figures with names like “Fat Bill” and “The Gambler.” Online chats include tips on breeding, training and what to tell the cops if they show up with a search warrant. Dogs are bought and sold. Stories, photos and even videotapes of fights are posted.

“The Internet has brought two groups to prominence, and that’s the pedophiles and the dogfighters,” notes Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County, Ohio, Animal Resource Center. Those Web sites are a great tool for tracking dogfighters, and animal rights activists are doing a great job of showing how it’s done.

Police are listening. You should, too: Keep Fluffy within reach, just to be safe. (Chicago Tribune)

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