Breeder of fighting dogs paroled

David Ray Tant

COLUMBIA -- Did David Ray Tant get off easy?

That's the question surrounding the parole granted Wednesday to the Charleston County man once considered the nation's second-largest breeder of fighting dogs.

Attorney General Henry McMaster argued that Tant's release sends the wrong message to dog-fighters, while Tant's attorney said he already spent more time in prison than any other person caught committing a similar crime.

Tant has served just shy of six years of a 30-year sentence that stemmed from his connection to the underground world of dog fighting, a ferocious blood sport where the dogs fight to the death.

He is expected to be released from MacDougall Correctional Institution in about a month, if not sooner.

Tant, 63, who participated in the parole hearing via satellite, said he accepts responsibility for his role in dog fighting and pledged that he would never break another law.

"That old life is behind me now," Tant said to the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services Board.

The board voted 5-2 without discussion to grant his release. The conditions of his parole include six months' intensive supervision with his parole agent and no contact with dogs. Tant told the parole board he was needed in Charleston to care for his elderly mother and ailing sister.

This year is the first in which Tant could have been paroled.

McMaster said the parole board's decision undermines the efforts of law enforcement and sets back the work advocates have done to eradicate dog fighting.

"For this parole board to let this man out at this time is an absolute outrage," McMaster said. "It's a tragedy. The public is going to be outraged."

McMaster said a sentence should mean what the judge intended it to mean. The judge and jury see and hear all the evidence in a case and decide whether a person should be sent to prison and for how long.

"The parole board is not supposed to be second guessing the judge and the jury," McMaster said.

Charleston attorney Dwayne Green, a former member of the parole board, petitioned the board to keep Tant in prison. Green said Tant's pending court appeal was the proper venue to decide whether he was unfairly sentenced.

Tant is believed already to have served longer than any other person convicted of a dog-fighting-related charge. An Alabama man was sentenced to 40 years and served about five years before his release.

By contrast, professional football quarterback Michael Vick served less than the two years he was sentenced to for his involvement in dog fighting. Animal rights advocates buck at any comparison between Vick and Tant, arguing that Tant's crimes were much more severe.

Tant's attorney, Doug Jennings, an outgoing state representative from Bennettsville, said Tant served as a model prisoner and would be a model parolee. Granting his release does not suggest that the state takes the nature of the crime lightly, he said.

"We do feel like justice was served today," Jennings said. "I do think this particular case also has sent, appropriately, a very strong message to the whole nation that South Carolina treats dog fighting in a very serious manner."

Tant pleaded guilty in November 2004 to more than 40 counts of illegally breeding fighting dogs.

He also received an assault charge when a surveyor was wounded by a potentially lethal hidden booby trap that went off after he wandered onto Tant's 11-acre property near Rantowles-Red Top. Tant paid more than $80,000 in restitution, and his 40-year sentence was reduced to 30 years.

Tant sold the dogs he bred to places as far away as Asia and Europe, for thousands of dollars each. Authorities seized 47 dogs, many which showed signs of scarring and abuse. All were later euthanized because they were considered to be too violent to adopt.

Charles Karesh, of the state's anti-dog-fighting task force and also a member of the Charleston Animal Society, said he is not convinced that Tant is a changed man, nor does he believe that Tant learned any lessons about the devastation he caused to the potentially thousands of dogs that Karesh called Tant's victims.

"I think we've had a setback in South Carolina," Karesh said.

The two members of the parole board who voted against Tant's parole were Chairwoman Karen Walto and Vice Chairman David Baxter. Voting for the parole were Orton Bellamy, Alan Gardner, Jim Gordon, Marvin Stevenson and James Williams.