Saving man's best friend from dog's worst enemy

Adding to the unmistakable mixed odor of blood and wet dog in the room came the bitter scent of burning. “They left it too long, and you could actually smell the burning—I don’t want to say flesh of the dog—but you could tell it was burning. The...


Adding to the unmistakable mixed odor of blood and wet dog in the room came the bitter scent of burning. “They left it too long, and you could actually smell the burning—I don’t want to say flesh of the dog—but you could tell it was burning. The dog had been dead for some time, it wasn’t moving.”

After attending nearly 86 matches during his year-long stint undercover investigating a dog-fighting ring, Terry Mills describes the merciless end to many dog fights.
“Ever seen jumper cables? The clips look like the end of jumper cables, reduced in size about 2 or 3 inches. They’ll hook those wire ends up to a 110 [electrical outlet] and they’ll clip usually the lip and the flank. They’ll take a washcloth and wet them down, and then plug it in to the 110. It’s pretty gruesome.”

Over the course of a year leading up to mid-2009, Mills worked as an undercover officer investigating a dog-fighting ring for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The case ultimately became what is thought to be the largest dog-fighting operation in U.S. history, and helped shut down a dog-fighting circuit connected across eight states. Today, three of the individuals who worked the case are part of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (better known as the ASPCA) newly conceived Blood Sports unit. The new unit, formed six months ago under the organization’s Field Investigations and Response team, a cruelty branch with the ASPCA, was created to better assist local law enforcement agencies across the country in dog-fighting and cockfighting investigations.

8-state dog-fighting investigation

In 2008, the Missouri State Joint-Terrorism Task Force got a tip that a local dog-fighting ring might be involved in a terrorism protection group. Terry Mills, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper at the time, did some undercover digging only to find out there was no terrorism activity taking place. The JTTF investigation was halted. However, the undercover look at the dog-fighting circle brought new horrors to light, and a state patrol investigation went on to survey the scene and develop intel on the individuals involved, as well as the variety of criminal activity abed in the group. “The scope was much larger than anybody had ever dreamed,” Mills says.
Mills spent more than 30 years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, where he investigated major crimes and participated in undercover operations involving narcotics, terrorism and gang-related activities. After 18 months of investigation and more than 100 individuals documented, police carried out a large-scale raid across multiple states to collect evidence and rescue the animals involved, all in simultaneous operations.

“What that case exposed really was how widespread animal fighting is — not only in Missouri — but nationwide,” says Rickey, who worked closely with Mills on the Humane Society of Missouri side for the duration of the case. “This is an investigation that spanned eight states, and it became very obvious very soon ... that this was a highly organized industry and had much more people involved in it than we had originally thought.” In addition to the animal cruelty and dog-fighting crimes taking place, a bevy of related criminal activity was also uncovered. In the raid on July 9, 2009, investigators found marijuana grow operations, methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Approximately $60,000 in stolen property was seized, as well as 100 guns, three vehicles and three boats. Mills explains that the organized criminal nature of blood sports rings lends itself to breed further crime, which multiplies the danger — but also the value to public safety when the cases are investigated.

A total of 407 dogs were rescued, with an additional 107 puppies born to pregnant fighting dogs after the raid.

Elevated awareness

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