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From the shadows to the spotlight: Tackling illegal dog fighting

Retired police lieutenant and dog training innovator Garret Wing sheds light on the dark world of illegal dog fighting and its ties to other criminal enterprises

By Police1 Staff

Garret Wing, a retired police lieutenant from the City of Miami Police Department, where he significantly contributed to the K9 unit as both a handler and supervisor, is the owner and founder of American Standard Dog Training and His current mission is to aid both law enforcement K-9 handlers and civilian dog owners in optimizing their dogs’ training.

In this video, he sheds light on the persistent issue of illegal dog fighting, discussing its prevalence, intersections with other criminal activities and the severe consequences for those involved. Despite the decline in media coverage since the Michael Vick case in 2008, illegal dog fighting continues to thrive, often in conjunction with narcotics trafficking, illegal weapons, and human trafficking.

Wing highlights the potential for law enforcement professionals to encounter illegal dog fighting rings inadvertently during routine investigations and stresses the importance of not disregarding these findings. These instances can serve as entry points into broader criminal networks involved in various illegal activities. Under federal law, engaging in dog fighting, or any related activities, is a crime with significant legal repercussions, including imprisonment, fines, and more.

He further discusses the brutal nature of dog fighting, where dogs suffer severe and often fatal injuries. The fights, fueled by drugs like steroids, cocaine, and methamphetamines to enhance the dogs’ performance, end in tragedy more often than not. The surviving dogs face a grim future, with their chances of rehabilitation and adoption being minimal due to the extensive mental and physical trauma they endure.

The penalties for participating in illegal dog fighting vary by jurisdiction but generally include felony charges, imprisonment, substantial fines, and additional penalties such as animal ownership bans and mandatory counseling. Wing also outlines the signs of dog fighting activities for law enforcement professionals, including the presence of dogs with multiple scars, fighting pits, and canine-related equipment.

In conclusion, Wing emphasizes the importance of community engagement and education in combating illegal dog fighting. He urges law enforcement and community members to work together, raising awareness about this crime and its indicators. By doing so, they can play a crucial role in detecting and stopping illegal dog fighting rings, contributing to the overall safety and well-being of the community.

Key takeaways

  • Illegal dog fighting today: Despite the diminished media spotlight since the Michael Vick case in 2008, the cruel reality is that illegal dog fighting thrives in the shadows of our communities. This brutal crime not only devastates the lives of countless dogs but is also interwoven with other illicit activities such as narcotics trafficking, illegal weapons, and human trafficking.
  • The law enforcement perspective: Law enforcement professionals might inadvertently discover dog fighting rings during routine investigations. However, a common challenge is the lack of specialized units or resources dedicated to combating this specific form of criminal activity, leading to potential oversight.
  • The legal framework: Under federal law, engaging in dog fighting or related activities is a crime. This encompasses not only the act of dog fighting but also the possession, training, transportation and sale of dogs for fighting purposes. These legal stipulations provide a robust basis for prosecuting individuals involved in dog fighting, with penalties including imprisonment, fines, and more.
  • The brutality of dog fighting: The reality of dog fighting is grim, with fights lasting hours, ending only with the death or grave injury of the dogs involved. The aftermath for the surviving dogs is bleak, with rehabilitation back into society being a rare outcome due to the severe mental and physical trauma they endure.
  • Penalties for participation: The consequences of engaging in illegal dog fighting are severe, with the crime being considered a felony across all 50 states and under federal law. Penalties can vary significantly, but generally include imprisonment, substantial fines, and probation, among others.
  • Recognizing the signs: For law enforcement, several indicators can signal the presence of dog fighting activities. These include the presence of dogs with multiple scars, fighting pits, specialized equipment, and a large number of certain dog breeds in poor conditions.
  • Community engagement: It’s crucial to not only tackle this issue through law enforcement but also by educating and partnering with the community. Awareness and vigilance can significantly aid in identifying and stopping dog fighting rings.

Video transcript

My name is Garret Wing and I am a retired police lieutenant with the city of Miami Police Department, where I spent the majority of my career working in the K9 unit as both a canine handler and a supervisor. I am now the owner and founder of American Standard Dog Training and, where we help both law enforcement canine handlers and civilian dog owners train their dogs to be the best that they can be. Today, I want to speak to you about illegal dog fighting and more specifically how it may be happening in your own jurisdiction, how illegal dog fighting can intersect cases you may already be working on, how brutal this crime is, and the penalties for those involved. Furthermore, we’re going to talk about some of the signs to look out for when it comes to illegal dog fighting and how you can partner with your community to help stem this illegal practice that is still alive and well.

Now, we haven’t heard much about illegal dog fighting since way back in 2008 when it was in the limelight concerning Michael Vick, who was arrested and convicted and ended up spending two years in prison for his involvement in illegal dog fighting. But since then, we haven’t heard much about it. But today, I want to let you know that illegal dog fighting is still alive and well and again could be happening in your own backyard. I’d also like to make you aware that when it comes to illegal dog fighting, it often correlates with many other illegal activities, including narcotics trafficking, illegal weapons, and even human trafficking. So, when it comes to targeting dog fighting, law enforcement can uncover and dismantle networks engaged in these crimes, which can enhance your community safety.

Next, let’s talk about how you as a law enforcement professional might stumble across an illegal dog fighting ring during the course of your normal patrol work or a criminal investigation. So, for instance, when doing, say, a phone dump or a search warrant of a home or a business, or in the course of an interview or a wiretap, it’s possible that you may uncover evidence related to an illegal dog fighting ring. Unfortunately, departments, no matter their size, do not often dedicate manpower towards addressing the specific criminal activity of dog fighting. Therefore, it goes unchecked, unchallenged, and often ignored. It is not the type of investigation most detectives are familiar with and often lies outside of their specific roles within their department.

The point being, if you are working patrol, narcotics, gangs, or even homicide, you may be the first and only investigator to come across this information, and there may not be anyone in your department to pass this case off to. So, I encourage you to not let these cases slip through the cracks but instead use them as an opportunity to further your own case and potentially use it as inroads into bigger cases that likely will involve narcotics trafficking, illegal firearms possession, and even violation of federal law.

Now, under federal law, it is illegal not only to fight dogs in a venture that affects interstate commerce but also to possess, train, transport, deliver, sell, purchase, or receive dogs for fighting purposes. So, whether investigating illegal dog fighting is just your inroad into your investigation, a parallel criminal activity, the federal nexus that you need for additional funding, or just added ammunition to your case should your case go to trial in front of a judge or jury, I think we can all agree that for all of these reasons, illegal dog fighting is a serious crime that we need to pay special attention to.

Next, I would like to discuss the brutality of this crime because most of us aren’t aware of what’s happening in these underground illegal dog fighting ranks. First and foremost, the length of these fights is not just mere minutes; sometimes, these dog fights can last up to an hour or longer, and they usually only end one of two ways: one is if the dog is killed in the ring or two, the fight is getting so bad it’s inevitable that one of these dogs is going to get killed, so the owner of the dog will throw in a towel to try to rescue the dog. Now, by the time that dog is rescued, the injuries are so significant that these dogs are sometimes still put down. Now, the manner in which they’re put down is never humane. They are not taken to a vet because the vets are very aware of this and would notify law enforcement, so the veterinary care that is offered to these animals does not happen at a vet’s office; it’s going to happen in someone’s home or in the back of somebody’s van.

Furthermore, it’s not just one dog fight that’s happening at these events; it’s typically an entire day or an entire weekend in which dozens and dozens of dogs are pitted against each other, resulting in the death of dozens and dozens of dogs. Furthermore, when they do postmortem examinations of the dogs that are killed in this sport, it is not uncommon to find that these dogs are injected with steroids, cocaine, and even methamphetamines to try to improve their chances at winning in this sport. Now, the sad part is, even if these dogs are rescued from these circumstances, the chances of them being rehabilitated back into normal society or being adopted by a loving family are slim to none. The mental and physical trauma that these dogs endure is sometimes too much for them to get over, and they end up being put down anyway, so very sad state of affairs.

Now, I’d like to briefly discuss some of the penalties that exist for criminals who partake in this illegal activity. Now, the penalties for illegal dog fighting can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction and the specific charges involved. However, generally, dog fighting is considered a felony in all 50 states and under federal law, with potential penalties including imprisonment, substantial fines, and probation. The length of prison time can vary from 1 year to more than 10 years, depending on the severity of the offense, prior convictions, and whether interstate commerce was involved. Additionally, individuals convicted of dog fighting may also face animal ownership bans, mandatory counseling, and restitution for the care of seized animals.

Now, here are some signs to look for as a law enforcement professional should you come across an illegal dog fighting ring. There are several indicators of dog fighting activities, including the presence of dogs with multiple scars, dog fighting pits, canine-related equipment including cages, dog treadmills, and makeshift training devices like weights and sleds that you may come across in someone’s basement or in a backyard. An unusually large quantity of pit bulls or other bully-type breeds being kept in one location, especially if they appear neglected, emaciated, locked in cages, or tied up on chains. Now, should you come across any of these signs, it’s a pretty clear indication that there might be an illegal dog fighting ring happening at that location.

Now, should you come across any of these warning signs, I would encourage you to investigate further to determine if there is, in fact, any illegal dog fighting happening on the premises. Last but not least, I think it’s important that we not only educate but continue to partner with the folks in our community, make them aware of these types of crimes, and let them know that you want to know about it because again, these types of things are not happening in isolation; they’re happening in people’s backyards, they’re happening in people’s basements, so neighbors are going to be made aware, and they might be the first to know about it. And it’s important to let them know that you want to know about it because they’re going to help to amplify your message and be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood so that we can help to put a stop to these types of crimes.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your time and watching this video, and I hope that we’ve been able to educate you a little bit and maybe shed a little bit of light on what’s been an underground illegal criminal activity that’s been going on for hundreds of years. But again, it’s still prevalent; it may be in your jurisdiction, and now that we’ve had this discussion, I hope that should you come across it, you’re now more well-informed and have a better idea of what you can do, what part you can play in helping to combat this illegal criminal activity that again is still alive and well today. So, thank you so much for watching; we’ll see you in the next video.