Our view: Help stamp out horribly cruel dog fighting in South Jersey

Humankind is slowly becoming more civilized, an endless effort to be less hateful, selfish, pointlessly destructive and cruel. Its inability to end the obvious abomination of dog fighting shows how far there is to go.

We’ve long been dismayed by the persistence of this cruelty for entertainment and money in South Jersey. We got our hopes up in 2016 when a federal crackdown on a multistate dog-fighting ring seized 66 abused dogs in Cumberland County, including six from a house outside Vineland and 13 at a Millville house. Ten people, including seven from South Jersey, were accused of supplying and organizing dog fights to the death. Several were subsequently convicted.

The year before New Jersey had widened its enforcement by allowing the crime of dog fighting to be prosecuted under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. Those involved in any aspect could face five to 10 years in prison, not just the three to five years for prosecutions under animal cruelty laws. In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law making “trunk fighting,” in which animals are made to fight to the death, a crime with stiff penalties.

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But the next year, dog fighting surfaced again in South Jersey. A malnourished pit bull was found abandoned in Millville. Police found one dead, one mortally wounded and two badly injured dogs in a woodshed in the city. Soon afterward, a pit bull with fatally severe wounds to the face — typical of those on bait dogs used to train fighters — was found along a highway in Carneys Point Township, Salem County.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged two South Jersey men as part of a Telegram-based dog fighting ring spanning several states. Johnnie Lee Nelson, 34, of Bridgeton, and Tommy J. Watson, aka “Snakes,” 43, of Clayton, Gloucester County, were accused of conspiring with others to violate the Animal Welfare Act by fighting, training, transporting and possessing pit bull-type dogs in dog-fighting ventures from August 2017 through March 2019. For that they face penalties up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Dog-fighting cases occurring almost every year suggests this scourge isn’t going away and may be growing.

A CNN investigation last month reported that federal authorities seized more than 400 dogs in 2022 — the most since 2007 when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to a federal charge related to dog fighting.

Major enforcements included the seizure of more than 300 dogs and arrest of more than 20 people in South Carolina, where two U.S. prosecutors have targeted dog fighting. This past September, that office led a raid executing 10 search warrants and seized 120 dogs from suspected fighting rings in the state.

The internet has made it easier to secretly organize dog fighting crimes. In the latest case, those charged are accused of conducting a dog-fighting operation called “From Da Bottom Kennels,” posting dog bloodline information on a fighting website, and streaming live videos of dog fights, fight training and the killing of unwanted dogs, including by hanging.

Animal welfare associations point out that the horrors of dog fighting are invariably accompanied by other crimes. Watson, for example, also was charged with possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. The penalty for that is up to 10 years prison and $250,000 fine.

Federal and state crackdowns are great, and we’re sure the public would support even stronger enforcement coordinated among federal, state and local officials.

Like child sexual abuse, though, dog-fighting perpetrators know their crimes are abhorrent and go to great lengths to hide them in remote or sound-proof locations. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere, but the public can help it find and punish dog fighting.

The ASPCA says indicators of dog fighting can include pit bull-mix-type dogs with multiple scars, possibly with lips or ears ripped off; dogs on heavy chains, tethered to a tire axle or dog house or barrel; dogs chained inches apart from one another; and dogs chained or penned in a secluded area out of the public’s view.

Anyone seeing dog abuse should call 911 right away. If dog fighting is suspected, report it to the local police. PETA offers a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction on cruelty-to-animals charges of those involved in dog fighting.

That’s fine, but helping stop this vile practice is worth more than money.