Friday, April 15, 1994

Pennsylvania: Dogs, Cats Stolen For Pit Bull Training

PENNSYLVANIA -- The stolen pets are dangled from trees as "bait" for pit bull terriers being groomed for the fighting ring.

The pit bulls' owners believe they will become more ferocious with a little practice, authorities say.

The remains of more than 20 dogs and cats apparently used for pit-bull training have been found in three parks in lower Germantown since last fall, said Holly McGurgan of the Women's Humane Society.

The stealing of pets that are tossed to pit bulls to be torn apart for practice "pops up in different locations throughout the city from time to time," McGurgan said.

"Right now, the only place we know it's located is Germantown." The parks are Fernhill, where some residents say the practice has dropped off since neighbors have been keeping a wary eye, Kay and Happy Hollow.

"They kind of hang them from trees and sic the pit bulls on them," McGurgan said.

Cats are targets as well as dogs, she said. "If it's alive and it moves, it's bait," McGurgan said. "People are reporting to us that animals are still being used as bait for fighting."

The pit bulls later fight each other, with owners and spectators placing bets on which will win and which will die. Another humane society expert said many street bettors wage $5 on a dogfight but top level gamblers can bet more than $1,000.

McGurgan said she didn't know if the pet kidnapping and pit-bull baiting was the work of teenagers.

"We haven't been able to catch anybody in the act," she said. "But it does seem to be the work of more than one person."

One arrest has been made in an ongoing investigation. Last November, police arrested Alexander Thomas, 19, who lives in the neighborhood and worked briefly for the Pennsylvania SPCA, after a neighbor accused him of stealing his dog.

According to a report in the Germantown Courier, the missing dog was found along with two others allegedly belonging to Thomas chained on Thomas' premises and a humane worker said the two other dogs had open wounds and appeared to have been used in dogfighting. The neighbor's dog reportedly was all right.

The two other dogs were taken to the Pennsylvania SPCA where one soon died and the other later had to be euthanized because of injuries, the paper quoted SPCA officials as saying.

Thomas faces a June 2 trial for dogfighting, a felony that carries maximum penalties of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine if convicted. A theft charge was dismissed.

A resident of nearby Fernhill, Barry Burton, says he has heard dogs fighting within the last two weeks. "When the dogs are locking on each other, they don't let go," he said. "You can hear it all through the park."

Burton said he had cared for three pit bulls, including one rescued from the park, but eventually had to turn two of them over to the SPCA because they were too aggressive.

( - April 14, 1994)