Since my story on the unprecedented Department of Public Safety’s undercover investigation into South Texas dogfighting was published in the magazine this month (“Bringing Down the Dogmen”), there’s already been another major raid by federal authorities of dogfighters in five states, including Texas. You would think that, finally, law enforcement is getting control of the dogfighting subculture.
John Goodwin, the deputy manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, says that organized dogfighting is still increasing—he goes so far as to say that it’s reaching “epidemic proportions nationwide”—and he adds that it shows no sign of slowing down in Texas, which “has historically been a hub of organized dogfighting.”
The major problem is that most police agencies still ignore dogfighting largely because they have to go to a lot of work to get dogfighters arrested and convicted. And even when they do go to all that trouble, the dogfighters only go to prison for, at most, two years. I’ve already gotten letters from readers who are outraged that “White Boy Rob” Rogers, one of Texas’s top dogfighters, only got a one-year sentence. Actually, that wasn’t bad. It wasn’t until September 2007 that the Texas Legislature decided to make dogfighting a felony, instead of a misdemeanor where a dogfighter could get away with only paying a fine.
Belinda Smith, who supervised the DPS investigation, is chief of the animal cruelty section of the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the only DA’s office in Texas with an animal cruelty division. She’s got another felony prosecutor who works on animal cases and a full-time investigator. She’s also helped put together a Harris County “Pit Bull Task Force,” which teaches county law enforcement agencies how to spot pit bull dogfighters and what to do to get them arrested. She travels the state giving speeches about dogfighting. “We’re pushing officers to go look for cases,” Smith says. “We have a trainer who trains officers what to look for on a pit bull to see if he or she is a fighting pit bull, how to spot the kind of cars dogfighters use, and so on. And I lecture long and loud that even getting these guys behind bars for a year or two is noble thing to do.”
Other cities need to hear that lecture. Nili Asgharian, a member of the private, non-profit Dallas Animal Cruelty Alliance, says she has informed officials with the City of Dallas about a number of animal cruelty or dogfighting cases over the years, only to see little response. Her members watched a pit bull breeder in West Dallas for several months cruelly mistreating his dogs, no doubt getting them ready for fights. Despite the alliance’s complaints, all that the city did was advise the owner to put up a privacy fence. Smith admits that she would like to see the state make the felony dogfighting law tougher so she could put away dogfighters for ten years. (Predictably, a lot of letters I received from dog lovers suggested they get the death sentence.) “I’m going to do everything I can to push the legislature when it meets again to toughen our dogfighting statutes,” says Smith.
For now, however, Smith continues to fight the lonely fight, and it seems to be a losing one. There are still plenty of Texas pit bull Web sites selling pit bull training gear and advertising fighting dogs. Dogfighting continues to lure all sorts of men: the poor and the very rich, the prominent and the obscure, rural residents and urban dwellers.
By the way, if you read the magazine story, then you’ll remember the section about the attempts of the DPS agents to bring down William David Townsend, a dogman who is the lead suspect in the 2006 murder of another dogman, who had slipped away to Mexico with his top dogs to hide from law enforcement. Well, recently, after my story went to press, some bounty hunters caught up with Townsend and brought him back to Texas, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.
So far, he’s saying nothing about his dogfighting life—or about the murder of the other dogman. And he’s certainly not telling anyone where his famous fighting pit bull Bisexual is now living. “Whatever happens to Townsend, I have no doubt Bisexual will some day show up again on the dogfighting circuit,” one of the DPS officers told me. “Too many dogmen around Texas are willing to pay money just to get a look at her fight. That’s how rabid they are about this whole thing. I promise you, our investigation was just the tip of the iceberg.”