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Task Force Aims To Put A Tight Leash On Dogfighting, Thefts

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Investigators call dogfighting a breeding ground for gambling, drugs, violence and bloody entertainment.WRAL investigates the underground culture and how dogfighting costs taxpayers and family pets.

Check most shelters around the state and you will see the scars of dogfighting. The animals are marked for death, whether killed in the ring or euthanized because they are raised too violent to adopt.

"There's a major expense of tax dollars that go with this," said Dicke Sloop, Wake County Animal Control director.

Sloop serves on a statewide task force that is trying to break up the fights. She believes the problem goes far beyond two bloodied dogs.

Take last fall's arrest of Samson Pruitt in Wake County, for example. Taxpayers shelled out $27,000 to house 91 confiscated pit bulls for one month. Most of the dogs were were eventually put to death.

Along with evidence of dogfighting, detectives found drugs and social workers removed two children from the home.

"People that will fight dogs, that will hurt dogs, will fight and hurt human beings," said Officer Judi Lowery of Garner Animal Control.

Lowery said, although it is often hard to prove, dogfighting also puts family pets at risk.

"It makes me really mad, because it hurts me and I know it hurt her," said Diane Combs, of her pit bull named Spice.

Last December, Spice was stolen from the back yard of Combs' Wilson County home. About a week later, Combs recovered the dog.

Sheriff's investigators suspect Spice had been used in a fight and was dragged down a road.

"She was skinned from her chin all the way down," Combs said.

In March 2002, pit bulls

Lucky and Dexter

were taken from the shelter in Clayton only to be found badly injured from fighting.

After a check of stolen dog records at the Wake County Sheriff's Office, WRAL found a number of pit bulls listed.

"I never found my dogs. I'll probably never find them," said Alvin Whitaker, who raises pit bulls at his Wake County home.

Whitaker thinks someone stole two puppies from him, possibly to train for fighting.

"I'm not into that. I just like it as a pet. It's a good dog. That's my heart, pit bulls. I love them," he said.

Investigators said it is not just pit bulls that get stolen by thieves connected to the dogfighting rings. Sometimes other breeds get targeted; not for fighting, but for bait.

"If they have a couple of pit bulls that they're training to fight, they just want them to get the taste for blood and a taste to kill and throw a puppy in with them or a kitten," Lowrey said.

"We have people coming from all areas with the one goal of abolishing animal fighting," Sloop said.

Sloop said the task force is investigating tougher laws for dog fighting. One recommendation would force suspects to pay shelter fees when their dogs are confiscated.

Although it is a felony in North Carolina to train dogs to fight, most offenders get little or no jail time.

Last year, Lee County deputies found a fighting pit, training equipment and over 100 dogs at Gaston Williamson's home. Williams walked with only probation, maintaining to this day that he is just a breeder.

"People who do things like that -- what are they going to do next?" Combs asked.

Investigators said unless the state puts a tighter leash on dogfighting, its negative impact will continue to spill outside the ring.

Some law enforcement and government leaders have called for a ban on pit bulls to help solve the problem of dogfighting. Animal experts argue that dogs must be bred and trained to fight, so the blame lies with people, not the dogs.