Two pit bull-related arrests last week have local law enforcement officials investigating the possibility that dog-fighting rings might exist in Fairfax County.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court, county police seized nine pit bulls, as well as several pieces of sophisticated training equipment that law enforcement experts said generally are used to breed, train and condition dogs to become professional fighters.
According to the affidavit, on Sept. 5, police raided the home of Eduardo Valdez, in the 4500 block of Tipton Lane in the Fairfax County portion of Alexandria.
Valdez was charged only with possessing a dangerous or vicious dog, a civil penalty that generally is a class two misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine, according to court documents.
Court documents in several area jurisdictions in Virginia, the district and Maryland show that Valdez has an extensive criminal record including charges of weapons possession, reckless endangerment, and first-degree murder in Prince George’s County, Md.
Court documents show no current attorney information for Valdez, and attempts to contact him directly were unsuccessful.
In addition to the dogs themselves, which police say bear scars commonly found on fighting dogs, police seized treadmills, heavy chains, muzzles, confinement crates, electric shock collars and leg boots, ‘breaksticks’ commonly used to pry apart the jaws of fighting dogs, and a “rape stand” which officials say is a confinement device used to force-breed female dogs.
“Rape stands like that one are not uncommon among fighting dog breeders,” said Janette Reever, deputy manager of animal fighting investigations for the Humane Society of the United States. “Female dogs are bred to fight as well as male dogs, so they use those stands to incapacitate the females so they don’t fight back in the forced breeding process.”
Reever, who saw footage of the pit bulls seized in the Alexandria raid, said they appeared to be fighting dogs.
“There were definitely dogfighting injuries and scars on some of those dogs,” she said. “And that equipment was certainly consistent with equipment used to condition fighting dogs.”
Reever said the industry is big business and very tightly managed.
“It is just like professional boxing. The idea is to get a dog into prime fighting condition,” she said.
“Dogs are conditioned to have ‘game’ and are put into weight classes the same way as professional boxers. For example, if a female dog is scheduled to fight in a 38-pound weight class and she is one pound over, that fight may be canceled, costing someone a lot of money. Also, if a dog jumps out of the ring during a fight, it is finished. It will be ‘culled’ or shot, on the spot.”
Although she is not sure of its overall annual value, Reever said that professional dogfighting is a very lucrative industry. “It is a big, big, money game,” she said. “One person can walk away from a single match with $250,000, and that doesn’t include any side betting.”
Reever said that although Fairfax County may not be known for dog fighting, it very well might exist.
“It is everywhere,” she said. “It’s not just in rural areas. It happens in the basements of homes in the suburbs as much as it does in outlying rural areas.”
Mike Lucas, director of animal control services for Fairfax County, said that although dog fighting arrests in the county are very rare, there is other potential evidence of its existence.
“We don’t even get one call per year in terms of actual fighting,” he said, “But there may be animals that are housed here and fought in other places. There may also even be some interstate transport going on.”
Lucas said that he has just been made aware of two out-of-state men who were arrested Sept. 7 in Loudoun County after authorities found them traveling on the Dulles Greenway with 10 dogs that appeared to be pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
Tremain Dene Johnson, 44, of Lithonia, Ga., and Harry Ortice Puckett, 33, of Elgin, Ill., were charged with importing pet dogs into the Commonwealth of Virginia from another state without certificate of veterinary inspection, a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The men were stopped on the Dulles Greenway when a Loudoun Animal Control officer, en route to a call, stopped to assist the men handling a puppy on the shoulder of the road in the area of Shreve Mill Road, according to reports.
Upon further inspection, officers found the men were in possession of 10 dogs that appeared to be pit bulls or pit bull mixes of varying ages and degrees of health.
“By law we can seize animals if we feel their health is a direct or immediate threat. These dogs met that criteria and we had grounds for seizing,” said Adrienne Burton, chief of Loudoun County Animal Control.
Burton would not comment further on the health of the dogs.
Authorities said the men were transporting the dogs into and through Virginia from several other states.
Johnson and Puckett are scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 19 in Loudoun General District Court. Each charge carries a maximum one-year jail sentence and $2,500 in fines.
The seizure hearing to determine custody of the dogs also will take place Sept. 19. The dogs currently are being cared for at the Loudoun County Animal Shelter.
“We are investigating a potential tie to Fairfax County in that case,” Lucas said. “And we are still going through evidence like phone records and computer files in the case of the Alexandria raid.”