Union Springs, Alabama, population 4,000 souls, is a quiet town deep in the old cotton belt of southeastern Alabama. People there, for the most part, speak to their neighbors in passing, raise good children, and love football and their dogs. Some of them, though, are in the pathetic, nasty business of dogfighting. This is the story of a dog called “Hope,” though when she was discovered, you would have sworn her cause was utterly hopeless.
In November 2016, surveillance video captured a man dragging a Rottweiler out of his truck and leaving her in the parking lot of the Bullock County Humane Society. It was early morning and the facility was closed. When staff arrived, they found the half-dead dog and didn’t expect her to survive.
Jennifer Gallagher, shelter manager, immediately took Hope to Taylor Crossing Animal Hospital in Montgomery. Upon examination, veterinarian Dr. Jessica Loch discovered the dog couldn’t walk, had hundreds of bites; some tore open the flesh down to the bone. Several bite areas were raw, bleeding and severely infected. The injuries were apparently a week old and left untreated.
It was reported that Loch suspected that the Rottweiler was either a bait dog or was being trained to be a dog fighter. She questioned whether or not Hope was purposely fought and, if so, how big was the arena of dog-fighting in the area. They called for the police.
Dog-fighting is a big money business in Alabama—and elsewhere. Small, rural communities seem to be particularly infested with dogfighters. This Stygian brand of criminal breaks into animal shelters. They steal selectively, typically choosing Rottweilers and pit bull mutts. They keep females strapped down for forced breeding, and use the mutts for “bait” dogs to whet the fighting appetites and skills of their fighting stock.
— PROTECT ALL WILDLIFE (@Protect_Wldlife) October 8, 2016
Alabama Media Group reports that Scott Hill, a retired Montgomery Humane Society officer and animal cruelty investigator, said he prosecuted nearly 100 dog-fighting cases during his 13 years on the job. Bullock County resident Rebecca Atkins reported hearing the sounds of dog-fighting from her back door nearly every weekend. The fights last about an hour. You know it’s over when you hear the sound of gunshots announcing the killing the losing dog. Other residents have seen abandoned dog-fighting rings. The blood-soaked walls and dead dog carcasses portray the horrific story of what took place in that tenth level of Hell.
Alabama law makes it a felony to own a dog with the intent of fighting it. A 10-year jail sentence could be levied on those convicted. However, the suggested federal penalties are anywhere from zero to 18 months, zero to six months for lesser counts. Prosecutors need to convince judges that the incident is so horrific that a longer sentence is warranted.
In Bullock County, a measure that would require anyone who adopts a pit bull to have the dog thoroughly vetted (neutered or spayed) has been met with backlash. Shelter owners such as Gallagher have received threats for neutering a stray pit bull later reclaimed by the owner. Joe Denham, a part-time employee at the shelter, was walking his Labrador Retriever two nights after the confrontation with the owner, when he hear two shots ring out. One bullet ripped past him into the woods behind him. The message—don’t mess with how we make our money–was repeated in case he didn’t hear it from the first shot.
According to a recent article published by Plaid Zebra, a self-described “unconventional lifestyle magazine” the FBI made animal abuse a felony on par with homicide, arson, assault and drug trafficking. The change was largely due to a years-long lobbying effort by Mary Lou Randour to protect animals from abuse.
The precise FBI categorization of animal cruelty is “simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (like dog-fighting and cock-fighting) and animal sexual abuse.” They define animal cruelty as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.”
Police investigators face difficulty in gathering information and evidence to meaningfully crack down on animal cruelty such as dog-fighting. Those same neighbors who smile and speak so freely suddenly become reticent and unwilling to talk to law enforcement out of fear for the safety of themselves and their families. They are afraid that the dogfighters will retaliate if they cooperate with investigators, in this case, the Union Springs Police Department.
If you have information that can help an investigation into animal cruelty of any kind you need to speak up. You also need to make sure you are protected. If the police want to question you this is what you need to say according to Penny Furr, an Atlanta-based animal rights attorney:
“I’m willing to cooperate with your investigation as long as you’re willing to give me and my animals protection.”
Make sure the protection offered is significant enough to address reasonable concerns.
A Happy Ending
There’s a happy ending for Hope. Her recovery from the hundreds of wounds, infections and deprivation by her human torturers is nothing short of a miracle. It wasn’t easy. She had to fight again–this time for her life. Her infections were so severe that one of her legs had to be amputated. The strength of her will, the love of her rescuers, the dedication of Corporal J. M. Butterbrodt, Union Springs Police Department and the skill of her vet, pulled her through. And maybe, since Union Springs is a churchgoing kind of town, she got a little special help and attention from Upstairs.
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