Police seized 15 pit bulls, along with a dogfighting training manual and other paraphernalia, in raids on a Twin Cities dogfighting operation Wednesday.
The raids, which also resulted in the arrest of a Minneapolis man, provided a rare peek into what officers call an underground illicit sport that can pay one winner $15,000 for one fight — and enact some of the worst animal abuse officers see.
In addition to the dogs found at several locations in Minneapolis and one in New Hope, police said they also found drugs and two guns.
"We are here to keep the community safe, and pets safe, hence investigating the dogfighting and all of the crimes involved around dogfighting," said Sgt. Lindsay Herron, an animal-crimes investigator for the Minneapolis Police Department.
The suspect, 34, was jailed on suspicion of animal cruelty and fights. He was arrested at his workplace Wednesday and was being held in the Hennepin County jail. Herron said she will recommend that prosecutors file dogfighting charges, which are a felony. The suspect has convictions for assaults, drugs, disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.
He has not yet been charged in connection with the dogfighting operation.
Officers from Minneapolis police, animal control and other agencies seized 10 adult dogs and five puppies, which are being held at Minneapolis Animal Care & Control during the investigation.
Herron said many of the animals were scarred from multiple wounds. She said she has reason to believe that other dogs have been killed.
"Absolutely," she said. "If you have a loser dog, that's what they do with them."
The dogs were kept outside, on dirt, with minimal food and water. Each dog was in its own kennel, with a doghouse, Herron said. Each dog was padlocked to a chain that was embedded in the ground in concrete or on a tire iron. Most of the kennels were padlocked shut, and a key was needed to get into them.
One adult dog shown Wednesday was covered with scars in various stages of healing, especially on his legs and face. One ear was missing.
The Minneapolis man arrested was renting various homes so that he had places to keep the dogs.
People were living at those locations as well, Herron said.
The suspect's mother, who also lives in Minneapolis, expressed shock Wednesday night upon learning that her son had been jailed in connection with alleged dogfighting. She claimed he would not do that.
"He's been loving dogs ever since he's little," she said.
Herron said she has been investigating the case for 18 months. Dogfighting operations are difficult to uncover, and she drove through alleys, hunting for the kind of doghouses that dogfight operators use. Neighbors also called in concerns, she said.
"It is such an underground activity, it takes a long time just to penetrate," said Bruce Folkens, commander of Minneapolis police special crimes investigations.
More time is needed to then conduct a thorough investigation and build all the evidence for prosecution, he said.
"It's been a long, ongoing problem," Herron said. "The participants are willing, and the only victims don't have a voice. So the only way that you're tipped off is driving through alleys; you can kind of see doghouses that fit the description that's mapped out in the manual. With this type of criminal element, there are other crimes that go along with it," Herron said.
She said she did not know where the fights were being held, but added that the investigation continues.
A veterinarian will evaluate the 15 seized dogs and test their temperaments to see if they can be adopted, she said.
Herron urged anyone who sees a dog kept outside around the clock, with minimal food or water, to tip off animal control officers or police.
"Animal Care & Control is concerned about safe neighborhoods, and that's safety for people as well as the animals," said Tom Doty, supervisor of Animal Care & Control.
"We encourage that if you see something you suspect is dogfighting, call 911," he said.