LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Dog fighting is epidemic in parts of Madison County

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

Debra Boswell, director of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, has a thick folder of reports and numerous packages of photographs featuring bloody, scarred dogs — some with missing ears, others with deep gashes in their necks. Some are pictures of lifeless animals that are evidence of an underground crime, a secret blood sport.

Boswell said dog fighting has reached “epidemic proportions” in the area. She has been asked to help with more than 50 dog fighting cases this year, and MARL takes in around 150 American pit bull terriers annually.

Pit bulls are the most common dog breed used in dog fighting. Almost all of the animals that come to MARL that have been bred for the “sport” have to be destroyed because their behavior is unpredictable and the liability is too high to place them with someone.

Boswell was called to assist in the area’s most recent dog fighting case two weeks ago. With the help of Madison County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Canton police arrested 10 people from Louisville, Miss., on dog fighting charges following a traffic stop.

Canton Police Chief Luke Gordon said Ben Webster, 18, of Sinai Road, and Louis Russey, 18, of Garrious Road, were charged with dog fighting, trespassing, possession of a stolen firearm and violating the open container law.

Kareem Mosely, 28, and Ruby Collins, 35, of Garrious Road; and Willie Huffman, 35, of Kosiusko; were charged as dog fighting spectators. Five juveniles were also charged.

“Basically, all of this started from a traffic stop on Hwy. 43 near the car wash,” Gordon said. “An officer observed an injured pit bull and some people in the van with blood on them.”

Gordon said participating in a dog fight is a felony in Mississippi, but it's also a felony to watch.

“You’d be surprised at how much animal fighting is still going on in the Madison County area,” Gordon said. “We usually, in the spring and summer, get calls about guys fighting dogs in the southwest part of Canton. I’ve even had guys tell me that they are training to fight the dog. Without a second person saying the same thing or a witness, it’s very hard to make a cruelty to animal or conspiracy charge stick.”

Gordon said dog fights are traveling shows that move all over the state.

“If the dog loses, in many cases, they will kill it on the spot,” he said.

Boswell said one female dog was picked up by MARL following the recent Canton arrest.

“A young boy had one dog,” she said. “He claimed he had just brought it down for somebody to look at for breeding purposes.”

Because the dog was a danger to staff and other animals at the shelter, it had to be euthanized.

“We don’t even try to place them,” Boswell said. “The liability factor is out of sight. If you had a child, would you trust it with one of these dogs? These perpetual bloodlines — they have been used over and over for fighting.”

Boswell said dog fighting is “epidemic” in Mississippi, and the peripheral activity that accompanies fights has managed to get the attention of law enforcement.

“It’s easy money,” she said. “You sell a little dope and fight a few dogs, and you don’t have to get out of bed and go to work like everyone else.”

Boswell has a thick folder of leads about dog fights, and said she receives 75-100 tips annually. Police often call her when they make an arrest because she's become part of their procedure.

“We just kind of fill in the blanks for them,” she said. “Hinds County called us this spring and said there was a dog fight in progress. We responded and picked them up. You have to catalogue these animals. They are actual evidence in the case, and you have document it.”

Various underground publications documenting the dog fighting world with advertisements for pit bulls and fight results exist. Boswell subscribes to them to keep abreast of the activity, but said it's become more difficult because fights have grown increasingly secretive.

She said animals are conditioned for fights much like boxers. They are placed on a strict diet, and in many cases, a jenny or rotating apparatus with a small bait animal like a kitten is used as part of the training. The dog chases the animal and is sometimes allowed to kill it as a reward.

During the actual fight, Boswell said dogs are usually put in an arena much like a boxing ring and forced to fight until one dies or “turns,” which means the animal refuses to fight his or her opponent.

The fights almost always result in the death of the losing animal, because if the other dog doesn’t kill it, it’s owner often will to make a statement to spectators that he will not sell the puppies of the loser.

“Usually, they will shoot the dog if he loses,” said Boswell.

The Humane Society reports that dog fights are most prevalent in the Southeast, Southwest, Great Lakes region and California, but Humane Society investigators have information documenting dog fights in almost every state.

Boswell said most owners give the same excuses when asked about the condition of their dogs. Many can be identified by scars, cuts and scrapes caused by fighting, and most owners tell police the animal got in a fight over food or was hurt when they acquired it.

In February of 2000, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office stopped a van containing nine pit bulls. Boswell said it was obvious that some of the dogs had participated in fights, and the owners had driven all the way from Chicago with the animals.

In October of 2002, a group of Memphis dog fighters were stopped in Madison County and $12,000 of prize winnings were confiscated.

“It makes me extremely angry,” said Boswell, who is grateful law enforcement is taking the 'blood sport' seriously. “These animals did not ask to be put in this situation. Owners will say these dogs love the fight and that they don’t have the same threshold of pain as other animals, but this type of violence only breeds violence in your community. If you have so little compassion for animals, or no compassion for them, then you can have no compassion for people.”

If you have any information regarding dog fights in the Madison County area, contact your area police department or the Mississippi Animal Rescue League at 601-969-1631.


The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker