Hundreds of dogs have been rescued and a dozen people arrested following a multi-state dog fighting ring investigation that started in Auburn.
On Friday, authorities from Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama executed thirteen search warrants at sites housing badly abused animals and gambling events, authorities announced during a Monday press conference. Twelve people were arrested, including three from Auburn and Opelika.
Those facing charges are:
"These defendants were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 on one dog fight," says U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr.
"Those people who are on the fringe of it, who just attend these type of events are now realizing how serious this is looked at by law enforcement," says Auburn Police Chief Paul Register.
Those arrested have been indicted on felony dog fighting charges. If convicted, the defendants could face up to five years in prison.
Local authorities say dog fighting has been a problem in Lee County in the past, but they've never seen anything of this magnitude.
"We had some pretty serious activity in the Lee County area….we hope this will put a pretty big dent in it," says Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.
The investigation started three years ago by the Auburn Police Department and resulted in the recovery of 367 dogs.
You can measure a man by the way he treats an animal and in this particular case these people had sinister purpose from Day 1," says Jones. "It is a great pleasure, quite frankly, for all of us in law enforcement to see these people arrested and taken to justice."
It's believed to be 2nd largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history, behind when authorities seized nearly 500 dogs in Missouri and four and surrounding states in 2009. That case became known as the "Missouri 500."
Officials with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States said the organizations are caring for the animals at undisclosed locations, and the animals will have to be kept as evidence while the case progresses. Eventually, they hope to retrain the dogs and get them new homes.
"They are finally getting a loving hand from responders who care for these dogs, but sadly there are many other dogs out there going through this type of abuse," ASPCA vice president Tim Rickey said.
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