Some 120 dogs were seized Thursday following a dogfighting bust that took place across the Midlands and Upstate South Carolina.
It is the largest single seizure of dogs from South Carolina dogfighting rings since a 60-agency effort recovered more that 300 dogs and saw the arrest of more than 20 people almost exactly one year ago.
That operation was believed to be the largest single day, single state dogfighting bust in the country. Thursday’s operation is believed to have been the second largest, investigators say.
“We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dog fighting operations will find no refuge here in South Carolina,” said U.S. Attorney Adair Burroughs told The State.
The U.S. Attorneys Office confirmed that 10 search warrants were executed at properties across the Midlands and the Upstate.
Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General led the investigation. They were assisted by agents from SLED, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local law enforcement agencies.
No federal arrests were made Thursday, the U.S. Attorneys Office confirmed. The State has contacted SLED for more information about local arrests.
Narcotics and weapons were also found during Thursday’s operation, which grew out of leads generated by the ongoing investigation from last September’s bust, investigators confirmed to The State.
The Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive or transport dogs intended for use in dog fighting.
Dogfighting is also illegal in South Carolina under the 1986 Animal Fighting and Baiting Act and punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Dogfighting in South Carolina
Last year’s bust was a watershed moment in the history of combating dogfighting in South Carolina.
The rescue of 305 dogs and the arrest of 20 people made it one of the largest single dogfighting busts since a six-state operation centered around Missouri rescued 500 dogs, mostly pit bulls, 2009. The “Missouri 500” remains the largest dog fighting bust in U.S. history.
Last September’s operation was the culmination of a months long investigation that involved the surveillance of multiple properties that were being used to breed, raise and train dogs, primarily pit bulls, for dog fighting.
In a 37-page search warrant, an investigator for the Department of Agriculture described seeing dogs with deep scars on their bodies kept at properties around the state. The dogs were being kept in isolation from one another and wearing heavy chains that were staked to the ground or wrapped around trees.
The massive law enforcement operation began on Sept. 23, 2022, when law enforcement interrupted a scheduled dogfighting match in Richland County. The next morning, the officers executed 23 search warrants at residences and properties in Richland, York, Orangeburg, Clarendon, Lee and Sumter Counties that were known dogfighting kennels or associated with dog fighting.
In addition to rescuing the animals, officers seized about 30 guns, $40,000 in cash and evidence related to dogfighting, according to the release.
“To force dogs to fight, often to the death, for the enjoyment of others is not only a federal crime, it is also cruel, sadistic and can create a haven for other illicit activities involving drugs and firearms,” said Boroughs said at the time.
As South Carolina’s attorney general, Gov. Henry McMaster started a dogfighting task force and worked with federal authorities to prosecute dogfighters in an attempt to stamp out the black-market sport in South Carolina, which was often linked to other crimes including drug dealing.
“The depravity involved in carrying out a dogfighting conspiracy is unimaginable to most people, and those involved in such a crime must be rooted out and punished,” McMaster said following last year’s bust.
But the blood sport has proven a stubborn problem in South Carolina. In 2004, The State took an in-depth look at dogfighting, uncovering an underworld of animal cruelty and crime related to dogfighting.
And the problem is not just limited to the state’s rural corners.
In 2017, federal authorities raided two properties in the Columbia area and arrested three family members, recovering more than 40 dogs that were being kept for an animal fighting business.
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