Field visit encounters: Dogfighting

Identify the signs of dogfighting to assist law enforcement operations

Dog fighting is a blood sport that dates back to the Roman Empire, in which dogs are bred, conditioned and trained to fight. The sport arrived in the United States during the Civil War, and its presence continues to plague all 50 states. This underground sport has been investigated by law enforcement for its connections to drug dealing, money laundering, homicide, etc. 

Illegal gambling is also common at dog fights. This cash business is a major attraction for organized crime. The sport brings in jobs such as breeders, trainers, sponsors and event coordinators, similar to boxing and mixed martial arts fighting. The sale and use of illegal drugs are common at dog fights as well, and as we all know, where there are drugs, there are guns.

Gang activity is linked to dog fighting in many ways. The financial gain and social networking of owning a trained fighting dog has a certain criminal appeal that is often sought after by many gang members.

Dog fighting can occur anywhere in your community, from rural areas to secluded, indoor areas, such as basements.
Dog fighting can occur anywhere in your community, from rural areas to secluded, indoor areas, such as basements. (ASPCA)

The use of social media has made dog fights even easier to set up and invite attendees. This makes them very difficult to prosecute by law enforcement.

Dog fighting can happen anywhere

In the rural areas of your county, and in the inner city of your metropolitan area, dog fights can be located just about anywhere. In urban communities, dogs used for fighting are often found living in secluded, indoor areas, such as basements, where they are hidden from public view.

Evidence of dog fighting

If you suspect dog fighting activity from your client while you are conducting a home or field visit, it is important to recognize the signs identified with dog fighting:

  • Dogs with multiple scars, possibly with lips or ears ripped off.
  • Dogs on heavy chains, tethered to a tire axle or dog house/barrel inches from each other.
  • Dogs chained or penned in a secluded area, intentionally kept out of the public’s view.
  • Dog workout equipment (It is important to note that these devices are not illegal in themselves and can be used for legitimate dog training. When photographing these items, their value as evidence of criminal activity, such as bloodstains, should be the focus point of your photos.): Spring poles (a mechanism attached to a toy that provides resistance when a dog pulls on it used to strengthen dogs’ jaws, often hanging from a beam or tree branch); treadmills; and dragging weight sets.
  • Large dipping stations such as metal dunk tanks or small children's pools (used to wash the dogs prior to the fight).

At the time of your home/field visit

If you suspect dog fighting activity when making a field visit, be as discrete as possible and try to take a partner with you. A partner can help in multiple ways, but primarily, one officer can be taking photos discretely while the other officer makes contact with the client.

A home layout and property diagram are the keys to a successful law enforcement operations plan. As you walk the interior of the home, make notes of the home layout and create the diagram as soon as possible when your visit is completed. In the event the law enforcement agency chooses to enter the home, having an inside diagram could change the operation plan of entrance for the agency.

The perimeter layout is also helpful. Having the authority to enter the home without a warrant is a blessing. This allows you to map out the home, the dogs’ locations, sheds and/or detached garages that might not be present during a Google map search. This makes your home/field visit a key component of the law enforcement operations plan.

Contacting law enforcement

If you suspect your client of dog fighting, alert your department and your local law enforcement agency immediately. When introducing the evidence to your local law enforcement agency, give authorities as many details as you can about the suspected animal fighting operation. 

I cannot stress enough how important photos and videos are to an investigation. Take advantage of your presence at the time of the home/field visit and take as many photos and videos as you possibly can. Providing this to a law enforcement agency can make or break a case.

A property where dog fights or training take place will typically have a confined ring, or other enclosed space where the dogs are forced to fight one another. The enclosure may be stained with blood and have multiple scratch marks. Focus on this location when documenting and photographing the property, focusing on bloodstains should they be present.

Provide a full debrief on your client in order to inform the law enforcement agency about your client’s past and present behavior during community supervision.

Safety is a concern

As a probation officer who has conducted multiple home visits, I can assure you; dogs are lethal weapons and should be treated with respect and vigilance when conducting field/home visits. Take every precaution you can when dealing with these animals.

Dog fighting not only harms animals, but also harms our communities. Our case file documentation can be the missing puzzle piece in an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Take the time and the effort to conduct your home/field visit accurately and with due diligence.

Remember, we are each other's greatest teachers.

Authors’ note: I would like to thank my Executive Director, Faustino "Tino" Lopez, for allowing me the opportunity to submit this article for publication. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leo Perez, Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, 3100 S. Bus Hwy 281, Edinburg, Texas 78539;

Read more: Have a plan: 7 ways to stay safe off-duty

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