9 Investigates exposes the dogfighting underworld

by: Myrt Price, WFTV Web Staff Updated:

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SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. - Investigators said it’s becoming more difficult to uncover dogfighting rings as the crime has gone “underground” and become part of a carnival of illegal activities including drugs, weapons, gambling and prostitution.

In March, undercover deputies and other law enforcement officers arrested Patrick Riley in Sumter County after receiving a tip that he had been training dogs to fight.

Deputies said during their investigation, they discovered that Riley is a nationally known dogfighting trainer. 

Read: 2 arrested, 8 dogs seized in dogfighting investigation in Sumter County

Deputies seized dogs, guns and drugs from his home.

Deputies said they also found equipment and documentation detailing involvement, attendance and hosting of dog fighting events.

The dogfighting culture is highly organized, deputies said.

Photos: Evidence found in alleged dogfighting operation in Sumter County 

The dogs are typically sent off to trainers for weeks to get in shape, with training methods that include chaining dogs to treadmills and other devices and forcing them to run until they’re too weak to stand.

“Everything about dogfighting is brutal, and to be honest, the training itself is often horrific,” said Stephanie Bell, a cruelty caseworker for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

Read: Florida lawmakers propose creating animal abuse registry

She said there are three different levels of dogfighting, with the third being the most organized, with elaborate fights and an audience of hundreds of people.

“The organizer will have it much like a fair,” said Bell. “The entry fee is typically about $150 per person to get in there.”

And gambling isn’t the only reason people attend.

“There is a heavy presence of narcotics. There is a heavy presence of prostitution,” she said. “Everyone is generally going to be carrying a weapon.”

They also keep an eye out for law enforcement, because it’s also illegal just to be a spectator at one of the fights.

“To attend one of these fights, you have to be someone that’s a part of that subculture,” said Bell.

People are usually notified about a fight days or weeks in advance.

“But you probably won’t know the exact location until the exact day of that event. Maybe within a few hours of that event,” said Bell.

Because the world of dogfighting is so hidden, it’s tough for law enforcement to get inside and investigate.