Durham News

Expert helps Triangle law enforcement investigate bloody world of dog fighting

Police say 23 dogs were rescued from a property in Huntersville in September 2015. Investigators believe the dogs were part of a dog-fighting operation.
Police say 23 dogs were rescued from a property in Huntersville in September 2015. Investigators believe the dogs were part of a dog-fighting operation.

The short, violent life of fighting dogs haunts Terry G. Mills.

A life that begins as puppies not born to provide love or companionship, but to make money and enlarge egos, said Mills, blood sports director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A fighting dog spends most of its life on a chain on a circle of dirt, the grass worn away from pacing paws. Others live in crates piled in basements, attics and other hidden areas.

“That’s his life or her life until that one is chosen to fight,” Mills said.

Mills was one of four presenters Friday in a daylong training for more than 30 law enforcement and animal shelter officials from central North Carolina, including Durham, Orange and Wake counties.

The training, provided through a partnership between the ASPCA and North Carolina Animal Federation, trained officers in how to identify and investigate dog fighting, cockfighting, puppy mills and other animal crimes.

Mills worked for the Missouri State Highway Patrol for 32 years. In 2009, he helped direct the largest dog fighting seizure in U.S. history. It covered eight states and resulted in more than 100 arrests and the seizure of more than 500 dogs in one day.

Dog fighting, a felony, is everywhere, Mills said. Dog fighters include professional athletes, drug dealers and science teachers.

“It’s all about the money,” made from betting, breeding and selling puppies, he said. “Just under money, is swollen heads. Their egos.”

ASPCA Investigations Director Kathryn Destreza said more people are reporting animal cruelty and neglect in part due to high-profile cases. Mills links the increase to improved training, including the 115 sessions he has presented working for the ASPCA over the last six years.

Meanwhile, about 49 percent of law enforcement officers say they need more training to investigate animal cruelty, according to a national ASPCA poll. And more than 52 percent say they received no training to investigate dog fighting.

In December, 156 dogs were seized in four locations in the Onslow County area following a federal dog-fighting investigation. Men in the case were accused of placing bets on dog fights, sometimes as much as $100,000, on a single fight.

Part of Mills’ presentation featured tools of the animal-cruelty trade. There were small, curved metal knives that are tied to roosters’ legs before they fight to the death. Antibiotics, vitamins and performance-enhancing substances sat in glass jars and plastic containers. Hats from dog-fighting kennels displayed logos: “Hard Goodbye Kennels,” “Monsters Inc.” and “Rough Country.”

Before a fight, a typical dog is put through a “keep,” a five- to eight-week conditioning period. He’s put on exercise mills, made to pull weights and shot up with steroids. He’s fed the best red meat.

“He’s treated like a king,” Mills said.

Some dogs fight in rings, others on streets and some are placed in locked trucks to brawl as their owners drive around and listen to loud music.

If the dog wins the fight, its wounds are immediately treated and the animal put back on the chain to heal. If the dog loses, it typically gets killed after the fight.

In the country the owners usually shoot them. But in the city they don’t want the gunfire. So, they turn to methods like extension cords with two clips, a sort of homemade electric chair.

“It kills them,” Mills said. “Usually right away.”

But sometimes they leave the cord plugged in too long, Mills said. You can smell the dog’s fur and skin burning.

“It’s a terrible smell,” Mills said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges