Dog-fighting still lurks in the shadows in the Lowcountry

Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office investigators say the man holding onto the dog is Rashad Derrell Grant, 23, of Georgetown. Grant was arrested Thursday and charged with animal fighting.

The discovery of a dog-fighting ring near Georgetown last month is a reminder that the brutal sport is alive and well in the Lowcountry.

Officers with the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit said they uncovered a dog-fighting operation while investigating a drug ring in the rural Sampit community north of Georgetown Jan. 28. Investigators released a photo of one of the suspects — 23-year-old Rashad Derrell Grant — holding back a dog on a chain from another snarling animal. Grant was arrested Thursday and charged with animal fighting, according to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office.

Two dogs seized after the bust were taken to the St. Francis Animal Center in Georgetown. One of them had a broken back and had to be euthanized, Executive Director Brad Floyd said. The other, a female called Jordan, is doing well.

Floyd said he often sees signs of dog-fighting, but officers almost have to see it in action to prove it.

“You’ve got a whole lot of circumstantial evidence that something’s afoot here, that there is dog fighting going on,” he said. “It’s here, it’s there (in Charleston). It’s just a little more underground now.”

Animal-welfare advocates are convinced dog-fighting is lurking around the Charleston area, as well, but say it’s well hidden and hard to prosecute.

Carol Linville, founder of Pet Helpers on Folly Road, said she regularly sees dogs that obviously have been in fights or used as bait dogs, but it’s hard to prove that they weren’t just scrapping with another dog.

“It’s out there,” she said. “But they’re really careful, and few people will talk. There’s a lot of money involved. It’s going to take a lot more to stop these guys.”

Dog-fighting is a felony under state law, punishable by a $5,000 fine and five years in prison. Spectators, who often pay admission fees and place bets, can be fined $500 and be put in jail for six months, and a third conviction is a felony.

Dog-fighting rings are usually well concealed and discovered when officers are investigating other crimes, such as drugs, according to Aldwin Roman, manager of anti-cruelty and outreach for the Charleston Animal Society.

“It’s not going to be out in the open,” he said.

Last month, for instance, York County deputies checking out a complaint of a car parked by the side of the road on cinder blocks came upon a dog fight in progress, according to WCNC-TV of Charlotte. Deputies said two dogs were fighting when they walked up to the house Jan. 21, and they seized five malnourished pit bulls.

In October, almost 50 dogs believed to be used in fighting were seized in Gaston while the FBI was investigating a cocaine ring.

“The truth is that dog-fighting happens all over the country, but it’s an underground activity that goes mostly unnoticed by the public,” Tim Rickey, vice president for Field Investigations and Response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said in an FBI news release after the bust.

The most famous case in the Charleston area was in 2004, when David Tant of Ravenel was arrested after a land surveyor stumbled on one of his booby traps. Nearly 50 dogs that investigators said he was breeding for fights were seized. Tant spent six years in prison and was released on parole in 2010.

The arrest spurred then-Attorney General Henry McMaster to set up a dog-fighting task force to investigate and strengthen the penalties. The task force was disbanded due to lack of funding shortly after Tant’s parole.

The illicit sport generally went underground in 2007, when a big dog-fighting ring was uncovered on the property of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. The case drew national attention to dog-fighting, but it’s still widespread because of the money involved, according to the ASPCA.

The Humane Society of the United States offers a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anybody involved in dog-fighting.

Janet Frisco, 60, who lives near Summerville, said she became aware of dog-fighting when a neighbor warned her to keep an eye on her dog so it wouldn’t be stolen and used as a bait dog. Bait dogs are sacrificed to train other dogs to kill. She put up signs against dog-fighting around her neighborhood last year and is raising money through the Go Fund Me website to rescue animals that might be used in dog-fighting.

“People need to understand that cruelty to animals is linked to cruelty to people,” she said. “People who have no compassion for the pain and abuse of animals will often be able to inflict pain on humans because they lack that compassion.”

Anyone who suspects dog-fighting is urged to call their local animal-control office or the Humane Society’s tip line.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.