The “show” was scheduled to take place on Friday night in a field behind a rundown gas plant about forty miles west of Houston. Chris, a young dogman from the coastal town of Matagorda, was driving up to take on Rob Rogers—or, as he was known in the dogfighting world, White Boy Rob. Chris was a cocky, fast-talking black guy, maybe 25 years old. He had a beauty of a pit bull named BJ, a newcomer to the game but one that had already developed a reputation as a “leg dog.” At his last show, BJ had locked his teeth onto his opponent’s front left leg, ripped out a chunk of cartilage, and then immediately torn into the right leg, nearly snapping a bone. “Nobody can beat BJ,” said Chris. “White Boy Rob ain’t going to do nothing to my BJ.”
Rogers was one of the best dogmen in Texas, renowned for his ability to work fighting pit bulls—“bull dogs,” he called them. He kept thirty dogs at a property in Baytown and at his two-bedroom trailer in Channelview, a blue-collar suburb of Houston, where he lived with his wife and three children. As a fight approached, he would select one dog and put him “on the keep.” He would run him for an hour through a cemetery with a thirty-pound chain attached to his collar. He’d make him swim for another hour in an above-ground pool in his backyard, then put him on a treadmill to run some more. Rogers would give the dog vitamins and amino acids and inject him with anti-inflammatory drugs. He’d give the dog very little water in order to lessen bleeding during a fight and make the skin tighter and harder to bite. To keep the animal relaxed, he’d let it stay inside the trailer and sleep at the foot of his bed. “You treat your bull dog with respect and you’ll be amazed at what he does for you,” Rogers liked to say. “You can tell him where to hit another dog, and he’ll hit it.”
For this particular show, Rogers had chosen Dozer, a 36-pound male with a coat the color of fried chicken. Dozer was young, just nineteen months old. Usually Rogers didn’t bring out one of his dogs until it had reached at least the age of two. But Dozer had what dogfighting aficionados describe as a “hard mouth”: He was a vicious biter. Like almost all of Rogers’s dogs, Dozer was also known for his “gameness”: Once he was ordered to fight, he refused to quit. When Rogers showed up in his old gray Ford van and pulled Dozer from his large crate, a couple of men who had been invited to the show let out low whistles. Dozer looked around, proud as a Thoroughbred, his muscles rippling under his short hair.
One by one, Dozer and BJ were weighed in, each suspended from a scale with a thin cord running under his front legs and around his chest. A member of Chris’s team washed Dozer with water, baking soda, warm milk, and vinegar to make sure his coat was not treated with some foreign substance that would inhibit BJ from biting. According to the rules, Rogers had the right to wash BJ, but he was so confident in Dozer that he shrugged his shoulders and told the referee to get the show going.
A wooden box—twelve feet by twelve feet, the walls two feet high—had been constructed in the middle of the field, with a couple of portable industrial lights set up around it. Inside the box, a carpet had been laid down over the grass. The invitation-only crowd of about thirty men stood just outside the box, most of them making bets. Chris and Rogers had each put up $750 for the fight, winner take all. The two men stepped into the box, cradling their dogs in their arms, and quickly turned toward their separate corners so that the dogs could not see each other. “Face your dogs,” said the referee.
The dogs were set down on the carpet and turned toward the center of the box. When they finally got a glimpse of each other, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Their heads slunk below their shoulders, and their paws strained against the carpet. The referee shouted, “Release your dogs,” and they came flying toward the center of the box with a vengeance, two projectiles colliding in midair.
Dozer immediately buried his teeth in BJ’s chest, and just as immediately spit him out. Rogers cursed. BJ obviously had some sort of solution on him—a flea dip, maybe—that was bothering Dozer. Rogers watched as BJ took advantage of the opportunity, driving himself underneath Dozer’s jaws and tearing at his front leg.
Rogers snapped his fingers, pointed to BJ’s face—the one place where he figured there would be no flea dip—and shouted, “Get it! Get after it!” Dozer responded, his teeth gnashing at BJ’s muzzle. BJ pawed backward, blood spurting from his mouth. Blood and urine drenched the carpet. Dozer was so wounded in his front leg that he had trouble standing. But as spectators around the box bellowed, he held onto BJ’s chest, his teeth like clamps.
Chris called for a break, and the two dogs were briefly separated. Rogers’s and Chris’s assistants gave them quick sponge baths and blew on them to cool them off. “Release your dogs!” the referee again called out, but BJ was having no more of it. He refused to walk over the scratch line that had been drawn on the carpet. The referee slowly counted from one to ten. BJ stayed where he was, and Dozer was declared the victor.
Rogers loaded Dozer up in his crate and drove away from the gas plant. It had been a good night. His reputation in the dogfighting world remained untarnished. He knew that within hours other dogmen would be on the phone swapping tales about his victory, talking up Dozer as White Boy Rob’s next great bull dog. He turned onto the highway and headed contentedly back to Channelview, never noticing the black pickup parked behind the trees or the two undercover officers sitting inside watching him.
A few months earlier, in the summer of 2007, Stephen Davis and Gary Manning, two officers assigned to the Department of Public Safety’s criminal intelligence division in Houston, had been sitting behind their desks when a lieutenant walked in and said that a player in the Houston-area dogfighting game was ready to talk. The two men sighed. They were veteran agents, beefy guys with the kind of oversized biceps and surly expressions you’d expect from bouncers at cheap strip joints. They’d worked undercover for years, usually going by their first names (for this article, their first names have been changed). They had posed as drug dealers, motorcycle gang members, white supremacists, and gun runners. “We didn’t want to mess with dogfighting,” recalls Manning, who spent six years in the Marines before joining the DPS, in 1994. “We just figured it was piddly shit, something for the local animal-control officers.”
Then they started Googling. They learned that the Humane Society of the United States estimates that as many as 40,000 people around the country are involved in dogfighting. On dogfighting Web sites they read message boards filled with comments about everything from the best way to train fighting dogs to tips for treating them when they are injured. They got hold of underground dogfighting magazines and studied ads from pit bull kennels promoting litters of puppies that were the offspring of retired champion dogs.
When they met with the informant, he told them that there were dogmen all over southeast Texas, some raising fighting pit bulls out in the country just as their fathers and grandfathers once had. Other dogmen, the informant said, kept their dogs in their backyards, behind their homes, at the edges of cities. A new generation of inner-city black dogmen had also emerged, holding their shows in abandoned buildings or in the back parking lots of apartment complexes. Brash young gangbangers or wannabe gangsters were even getting into the game, the informant added, sometimes spontaneously staging their shows on street corners, in full view of anyone passing by.
The informant kept going, telling Manning and Davis about unscrupulous dogmen putting cocaine on their dogs’ gums, shooting them up with steroids, and then abandoning or unabashedly killing their “curs” (the worst-performing dogs). He brought up the 2006 murder of 27-year-old Thomas Weigner, a prosperous young pit bull breeder and handler, well-known in dogfighting circles around the country, who kept more than 250 fighting pit bulls on a twenty-acre spread in Liberty County, northeast of Houston. At least two gunmen had broken into his home, tied up his family, and then shot him, letting him bleed to death. The Liberty County Sheriff’s Department named a rival dogman, 34-year-old William David Townsend, of Montgomery County, as its lead suspect, speculating that he wanted either Weigner’s money (Weigner had reportedly won $50,000 in a recent show) or Weigner’s best dogs for his own kennel. Townsend was arrested on an unrelated drug charge, then released on bond, at which point he reportedly fled to Mexico, taking some of his best dogs (and maybe some of Weigner’s). Nevertheless, the informant told Manning and Davis, Townsend was still in the game, sometimes slipping back into Texas with one of his dogs for a show.
“Nothing is slowing these guys down, absolutely nothing,” the informant said. “They make Michael Vick look like a pussy.”
Manning and Davis drove out to have a look at some of the dogmen’s homes, including White Boy Rob Rogers’s trailer, in Channelview. But the cops quickly realized that their investigation faced one major problem: They had almost no chance of getting close to a dogfight, at least not one involving the better players. Dogmen were like members of a secret society; their shows were invitation-only. And those spectators who got invited were not informed of the show’s location until an hour or so before it was to begin—sometimes less. They almost always drove to the shows in cars or trucks with the license plates removed to avoid being identified. Usually, someone would do a “heat run” on the way to a show, doubling back on the route he had just taken to see if any cops were following in an unmarked vehicle.
The cops thought they had caught a break when the informant told them about the Friday-night show between Rogers and Chris. They set up down the street from Rogers’s trailer, watched him load a dog into his van, and discreetly followed him. But when he turned down a dirt road and headed behind the gas plant, they came to a stop. Lookouts, no doubt, had been stationed around the field, and Manning and Davis had no idea when the show was actually going to begin. Considering that the only way to make a felony case on a dogfighter is to catch him in the act of dogfighting, they figured they were out of luck.
But they couldn’t get the dogmen out of their mind. “There’s got to be a way to bring them down,” Manning kept saying to his partner. A few days later, they walked into their lieutenant’s office and told him that they wanted to do something that had never before been tried in the history of American law enforcement. They wanted to become dogmen themselves.
For centuries, dogfighting was perfectly legal. In Rome’s Colosseum, gladiator dogs were pitted against one another or against other animals, including wild elephants. One of the more popular forms of entertainment in twelfth-century England was “baiting,” in which fighting dogs would be released into a ring with chained bulls and bears. In the colonial United States dogfights were common, and they continued well into the nineteenth century, with formal rules and sanctioned referees. As recently as 1881, the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad advertised special fares to a dogfight in Louisville, Kentucky.
Eventually, because of protests by such groups as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, states began passing legislation that banned dogfights. By the thirties, dogfighting had been driven almost completely underground. Nevertheless, it remained a culturally ingrained phenomenon that simply refused to go away—a fact that became all too clear when Michael Vick, the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, was indicted by a grand jury in July 2007 for operating a dogfighting ring on his Virginia farm and later sentenced to two years in prison. The vast majority of Americans were stunned. Why, they wanted to know, would a young multimillionaire celebrity risk everything to engage in what they regarded as a barbaric practice?
Pit bulls are fast, agile animals with bulging chests, bricklike snouts, jaws that have ten times the crushing power of other dogs’, and incredibly strong back legs that allow them to shoot forward like blitzing linebackers. If properly socialized, they can be among the most people-friendly, face-licking pets on the planet: Think of Petey in The Little Rascals. But when raised by a dogman, they can be terrifying, capable of brawling for hours at a time, ripping the flesh off their opponents, even disemboweling them if they get the chance.
Dogmen view their fighting pit bulls as nothing less than spectacularly trained athletes. On dogfighting Web sites, dogmen constantly swap stories about famous pit bulls. (“The best pound for pound match dog I have ever seen was “CH. HOLLY,” one dogman recently blogged. “She was the K-9 equivalent of Sugar Ray Robinson.”) They know the bloodlines of the pit bulls the way horse racing fans know the lineage of Triple Crown contenders. “Let me tell you,” Rogers said when I met him recently, “they are beautiful animals. It’s amazing to watch two of them face off in the box, studying one another, making a move, then changing strategies and making another move. These dogs think. They’re smart. And they get a real joy out of fighting. They’re born and bred to fight. I’m telling you, keeping one of these dogs from fighting is just as cruel as keeping a retriever inside the house and not letting him fetch.”
Rogers, who is 38, is hardly an unpleasant man. Stocky, with closely cropped dark hair and crooked teeth, he usually dresses in a sleeveless T-shirt, blue jean shorts, and sandals or rubber flip-flops. He has a regular day job, selling salvaged cars to junkyards. His wife is a friendly, outgoing woman, and he proudly describes his three children as “honor roll students.” The family attends a small Baptist church in Channelview, just down the road from their trailer, and on birthdays and other special occasions they like to go to Casa Olé, an inexpensive Mexican restaurant. One of Rogers’s neighbors describes him as “a nice enough guy who always waves when he sees you driving by.”
Raised by a single mother in a blue-collar neighborhood in Houston, Rogers told me that he was “just your average redneck kid who loved to hunt and fish.” He loved dogs, he said—“all kinds of dogs, big and little, rottweilers and dachshunds.” Except for a few fistfights, he rarely got in trouble as a boy. (His only criminal conviction to date is a misdemeanor charge for an illegal inspection sticker.)
When he was in his early twenties and living in Channelview, he saw his first show. What struck him immediately was not the violence of the dogfighting but the bond between the men and their dogs. “They worked with their dogs like they were teammates,” he told me. “And they never let their dogs get too hurt. I learned all that stuff about fighting your dog to the death was just a big lie. If their dogs were losing, they’d pick them up, take them home, get them healed, and let them live to fight another day.”
Rogers began reading about the training techniques of such legendary Texas dogmen as Maurice Carver, of San Antonio, the “Silver Fox,” who, according to one story on a dogfighting Web site, always arrived for his shows “in his cowboy boots, Stetson hat and usually dressed to kill.” Rogers bought some pit bulls and built their loyalty by occasionally giving them a pork bone from Kroger or a stuffed animal to rip apart. (“I bought up every stuffed teddy bear I could find at the Channelview garage sales,” he said.) He had the dogs swim with him and his children in the family’s plastic pool and in a nearby river. He bought a treadmill for him and his wife but soon started to use it to work a dog while he and the family ate dinner or watched television. Eventually he had a few of his dogs do some “rolls”—brief fights with other dogs, five to ten minutes in length. Then he started doing shows for money. One evening, he took his best dog, Little Punk, to a remote piece of property near Austin to challenge a well-known veteran dogman and his animal, Hogdog. According to the rules, dogmen can’t touch their dogs during a fight, but they can get right up beside them and exhort them to fight harder. In the middle of the action, Rogers stepped forward, snapped his fingers, pointed to Hogdog’s back legs, and said, “Right there.” Little Punk promptly attacked. Rogers then snapped his fingers and pointed at Hogdog’s head; Little Punk responded by pulling Hogdog’s head straight back, nearly ripping it off his neck. The spectators were amazed at the newcomer’s skill. Rogers was like some sort of pit bull whisperer. Hogdog’s owner pulled his dog from the fight after 42 minutes, and suddenly Rogers was famous.
In 2002 he began fighting a solid black pit bull named Dipstick. Dipstick was a defensive specialist. He’d wait until his opponent made the first move, then he’d deftly step to the right or left, lock his jaws onto the side of his opponent’s face or ears, and start clamping down. Within a couple years—Rogers always gave his dogs plenty of rest between fights—Dipstick became a “grand champion” (a pit bull that has won five matches in a row, an unusual feat in dogfighting).
Dogfighting fame seldom translates to wealth. Rogers rarely won more than $1,000 at a fight (though occasionally the purses went as high as $10,000), and he’d plow much of that money back into food and veterinary supplies for the dogs. Every now and then, he’d agree to train the pit bulls of other dogmen, usually charging between $500 and $1,500. “I didn’t mind helping out other guys who were devoted to the sport,” he told me. In early 2008 he got a call about two white guys who had opened a new “spot”—a place to hold dogfights—in a small, secluded warehouse on the east side of Houston, just off Interstate 10. They were calling their spot the Dog House, and they wanted to meet the great White Boy Rob and perhaps do a few rolls with him, maybe even pick up some pointers.
“Yeah, I’ll talk to them,” Rogers said.
Manning and Davis’s plan was to lure Rogers and other dogmen to the warehouse to put on shows, which they would videotape with cameras hidden in the walls or within their clothing. But the informant told them that if they ever hoped to win the dogmen’s trust, they were going to have to get in their own box and fight their own dogs.
One afternoon in early 2008, Manning and Davis drove to the informant’s house to get their first taste of dogfighting. The informant led them into his garage, where he had set up a box. He brought out a female named Crunch and showed Manning, who was going to be the dogman, how to hold the dog before a fight, how to release it, and how to coach it when the fight began.
The informant then went back outside and returned a minute or two later with another female, named Mercedes. He stood in one corner of the garage with Mercedes and had Manning stand in another corner with Crunch. “Release,” said the informant, and just like that, without the slightest provocation, the two dogs came charging, their ears pinned back, their teeth ripping into each other’s skin.
Manning and Davis had seen their share of homicide victims and had been in a few bloody fights themselves, but they had never witnessed anything like this. They left as quickly as they could and drove to the nearest bar, dog blood still on their boots. “What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into?” asked Manning.
Four days later, the informant called to say that Rogers had agreed to take a look at the Dog House. When he arrived with a couple of his associates, Manning and Davis were wearing motorcycle boots, blue jeans, and sleeveless T-shirts. They said they were members of a local motorcycle gang that stole ATMs for a living (they’d had a couple of busted ATMs put against the back wall). They offered their visitors something to drink, but Rogers simply stared at the newcomers and their dogs (which the informant had brought to the warehouse earlier). “Let’s do a roll,” he said.
A nervous Manning, already dripping with sweat, carried Crunch into the box. Rogers brought out a dog from his van, but he told one of his buddies to act as the dog’s handler. Rogers wanted only to observe. Manning and Davis looked at each other. If Rogers wasn’t on tape, they couldn’t pop him for a felony dogfighting charge. “Let’s go,” said Rogers. “What the hell are we waiting for?”
The dogs were released. Predictably, Rogers’ superior dog demolished Crunch, first attacking her front legs, then going for her neck. A desperate Manning, getting down on his hands and knees, kept yelling at Crunch to keep fighting. “Good, Mama!” he shouted, as the informant had taught him. “Kill that other bitch! You can do it!”
Rogers quickly ordered the roll to be stopped. “You don’t even have any idea what the hell you’re doing, do you?” he asked Manning. He then added, “You’re going to kill your dog, right? Your bitch is nothing but a cur.”
Manning knew that some dogmen immediately kill a dog that’s lost a fight, usually by shooting or electrocuting it. Was that what Rogers expected him to do to prove himself as a real dogman? He stared at Crunch, who was limping and gasping for breath, her tongue jutting from the side of her mouth. “No, man, I’m not killing her,” Manning finally said. “She’s new to the game. I just wanted to see if she would scratch out.”
Rogers nodded. “I’d do the same thing,” he said. Apparently Manning had passed the test.
The news began to spread: Two new dogmen had built a spot inside a warehouse, and they were more than happy to let other dogmen hold their shows there for a $20 admission fee. They were also barbecuing wings and ribs on a grill out in the parking lot. Gradually, Manning and Davis built their reputations, mostly with minor dogfighters. In time, Rogers returned to the Dog House too, getting in the box to do some rolls and a couple of shows, dominating everyone who dared to take him on. The cops were smart; they knew that having White Boy Rob in attendance enhanced their legitimacy. To make sure he kept coming back, they lent him money and agreed to fund part of the purses for his shows. They also bought a couple dogs from him and paid for the dogs’ conditioning. It wasn’t long before Rogers was treating Manning and Davis as his apprentices.
In the world of dogfighting, Rogers was actually regarded as one of the more honorable dogmen. He didn’t shoot up his dogs with steroids. He didn’t hang “bait animals” (cats or small dogs) from a pole in a cage and have his pit bulls lunge after them in order to build their aggression. Nor was he a partier. When Manning and Davis once offered to buy him drinks at Hi-10 Cabaret, a topless club, he refused, saying he didn’t want to disrespect his wife.
Despite Rogers’s training, Manning and Davis’s dogs got pummeled in their initial shows. “You dumbass white boys,” their black opponents would gleefully yell, driving away at the end of the night, their stomachs full of barbecue and beer. The officers would bandage up their dogs and take them back to their homes in suburban Houston. Their children and neighbors would stare wide-eyed at the battered pit bulls sitting in their garages or chained to metal stakes in their backyards. Late one evening, one of Manning’s neighbors, who knew about his undercover work, saw him pull into the driveway and carry out an exhausted pit bull. “Don’t ask,” Manning said.
In April, only a couple months after opening the Dog House, they received an invitation to bring one of their dogs to a show with a top black dogfighter who lived an hour or so outside Houston. It was a huge break: Manning and Davis figured that if they could win over the crowd at that show, they might, in turn, be able to lure them to the Dog House for more fights—and in the end, make more arrests.
The show was held in a field surrounded by thick woods. Manning and Davis were the only white men in attendance. More than fifty black men, some likely armed with pistols and knives, crowded around the cops and their dog, Brutus, whom they had bought from another Houston dogman a few days earlier. The purse was set at $5,000—each side putting up $2,500. Manning and Davis knew nothing about Brutus, and they were worried the dog would quickly fold, which would enrage the spectators, who had come expecting to see a real fight. Instead, Brutus raced to the middle of the box, grabbed onto his opponent’s head, and threw him backward. The fight lasted an amazing two hours and twenty minutes. Toward the end, Brutus was fading, with lacerations all over his body. Manning stepped forward, picked Brutus up in his arms, and forfeited the fight, handing his opponent $2,500. The spectators started applauding, some of them saying it was one of the best shows they had ever seen. “You got a real bull dog in that Brutus,” one of them said, slapping Manning and Davis on the back. Though Brutus died a few days later, the two officers realized that they had been accepted as real dogmen.
Soon after, dogmen from around southeast Texas were calling Manning’s and Davis’s cell phones, wanting to come to the Dog House for a show. A group of dogmen from Louisiana, another hotbed of dogfighting, drove to Houston to check out the Dog House. One dogman brought his girlfriend to watch a show. “What the hell is next?” asked Davis. “A kid’s night?”
The dogmen Davis and Manning encountered had all kinds of day jobs: manager of a Jack in the Box, sales representative for an oil-field services company, mail room clerk for a community college, professional baseball player turned high school English teacher. But the person they really wanted to meet was Houston’s top black dogfighter, a 42-year-old man known as Fat Don. The rumor was that Fat Don, whose real name was Donald Wayne Woods, had 150 dogs spread out among various properties. At least two of those dogs were grand champions that had won shows with $100,000-plus purses. Fat Don arrived at every show in a Mercedes SUV. He also owned several classic cars and a couple dragsters, which he raced at local tracks. He had supposedly arranged for a pet company to send trucks out to his home, situated behind locked gates in northeast Houston, to deliver giant bags of dog food.
In the fall of 2008, Fat Don finally agreed to meet Manning and Davis at a Denny’s. He was short and squat and wore overalls. He had a four-man entourage with him, one of whom stood watch outside the restaurant. For a while, they talked about his grand champions Fat Boy and Cash. Manning and Davis mentioned that they were now “kennel partners” with White Boy Rob. They told Fat Don that they wanted to match one of their dogs against one of his.
Fat Don’s eyebrows raised. He had been out of the game for a while and liked the idea of making his comeback against White Boy Rob and his new partners. He agreed to do a show six weeks later.
Rogers put Gemini, a black-and-white pit bull, on the keep. Fat Don went with an all-black dog named Fred. But when they met at the Dog House, Rogers said Gemini was not rested—he had accidentally slipped off his chain in Rogers’s yard a few days earlier and gotten into a vicious fight with another dog—and that the show should be forfeited. Manning and Davis were insistent that the show go on: They needed videotape of Fat Don in the box.
The bout was totally anticlimactic. Fred got on top of Gemini, slammed his head to the carpet, and never let up. Gemini seemed disoriented, as if he had suffered a concussion. After a mere twelve minutes, a humiliated Rogers called a halt and had Gemini picked up. “Another day,” he said to Fat Don. Manning and Davis handed over their side of the purse—$10,000.
Though Manning and Davis were exhilarated to have nabbed another kingpin, they did have one problem: The top DPS commanders in Austin had been reviewing the dogfighting budget, and they were not happy that so much of their money was flowing into the hands of the dogmen. A couple commanders thought the whole operation was trivial compared with the major crimes that needed to be investigated. A couple others were concerned that animal rights organizations would erupt upon learning that DPS officers had actually been dogfighting themselves. Belinda Smith, the animal cruelty prosecutor for the Harris County district attorney’s office, and Stephen St. Martin, another of the DA’s top prosecutors, went to Austin to reassure the DPS commanders that Manning and Davis’s investigation was perfectly legal. They mentioned that the Dog House had become so well-known that dogmen from around the state and even as far away as Tennessee and Maryland were wanting to arrange shows there.
What’s more, Manning and Davis told their commanders that they were convinced they were getting close to William David Townsend, the lead suspect in the 2006 Thomas Weigner murder case. One day Rogers had called and told them that two Mexican brothers had transported Townsend’s dog Bisexual over the border. They’d driven her to Rogers’s yard to spend the night before a fight the next night in East Texas against a dog from a Louisiana pit bull kennel. Bisexual, so named for a vicious tendency to strike at her opponents’ genitals, was one of the most feared pit bulls in Texas dogfighting. If she won her fight against the Louisiana dog, as she was easily expected to do, she’d be a grand champion.
Manning and Davis persuaded Rogers to let them watch the show. Also coming along in another vehicle were two black bodyguards from Houston who had presumably been hired by Townsend to make sure nothing happened to Bisexual. The caravan headed toward the town of Jasper. But when they reached the show’s location, the dogman handling the Louisiana dog said the kennel owners, perhaps realizing their dog would be no match for Bisexual, wanted to back out of the fight.
According to Manning, one of the Mexicans then called Townsend in Mexico. He put the call on speakerphone, and Manning was able to eavesdrop on the entire conversation. He heard the Mexican ask if he should shoot the gringo dogman from the Louisiana kennel. Townsend told him to instead arrange a deal with the kennel owners to obtain the dog that was supposed to fight—or else suffer the consequences. A deal was indeed struck, and the Mexicans disappeared back into Mexico with Bisexual and the Louisiana dog.
“They’ll be back to get Bisexual that grand championship,” Rogers told Manning and Davis. “I promise they’ll be back.”
In fact, the Mexican brothers were rumored to be coming back with Bisexual for a show on December 6, and Manning and Davis proposed that on that night teams of DPS and local police officers sweep into three spots, including their own, where several shows would be taking place. Maybe they’d get lucky and nab Bisexual, the Mexican brothers, and Townsend too. At the least, the officers declared, the roundup could bring down close to two hundred dogmen and spectators.
But the DPS commanders ordered the officers to close their investigation and arrest those they already had on videotape. At dawn on a Friday morning in November, more than one hundred peace officers stormed some of the dogmen’s homes and various properties where Manning and Davis knew that large numbers of fighting dogs were being kept.
Over the next several days, more suspects were arrested. When it was all over, 85 men, including White Boy Rob and Fat Don, were indicted for either dogfighting (a state felony with a maximum punishment of two years in jail) or being spectators at a dogfight (a class A misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in jail). Animal control officers also confiscated 185 fighting dogs. When Rogers’s dogs and their puppies were carried off, his wife and children burst into tears. The dogs were the family pets. Every night, they would curl up on the couch and lie on their backs to be rubbed on their stomachs. “It’s not fair,” one of the children cried out.
Because dogmen have been known to break into animal shelters to steal confiscated pit bulls, Harris County stationed constables around the facility where the dogs had been taken. But there was no way, Belinda Smith told reporters, to rehabilitate dogs that had been bred to be so wildly aggressive toward other dogs. It was also important, she noted, to keep those dogs, especially the champion dogs belonging to Fat Don and Rogers, from passing on their fighting bloodlines. So the decision was made to euthanize all of them, including the pit bulls that Manning and Davis had used. Before they were put down, the officers showed up to say goodbye. “I’m not much of an emotional guy, and I knew it was the right thing to put those dogs down,” said Manning. “But when I was saying, ‘Good girl,’ to one of my dogs, petting her on the head, she started wagging her tail. It was not easy to walk away from that.”
The bust was trumpeted in the news as one of the biggest in the nation, and predictably, most citizens were outraged. Someone commented on the Houston Chronicle Web site that dogmen should be tied down, covered with pork chop grease, and mauled by “20 hungry pit bulls.” As it turned out, the animal rights organizations were not angry at all that Manning and Davis had fought dogs: They were thrilled that someone had finally gone after the dogmen.
But the writers on the dogfighting Web sites were furious that the informant, one of their own, had become a snitch. (Manning and Davis refuse to comment on whether the informant had struck a deal regarding any previous charges in return for his cooperation.) One described the cops as “scumbags” who’d entrapped the dogmen. On the Chronicle Web site, someone who said he wasn’t a dogman wrote, “It’s laughable that so-called mistreatment of animals gets more attention than many of the horrendous things that happen to humans every day.”
Nevertheless, the criminal cases were open-and-shut. By June of this year, almost all the defendants had worked out deals, including Fat Don, who, according to Smith, quietly agreed to a two-year felony sentence. To just about everyone’s surprise, however, one of the few dogmen who initially refused to cop a plea was White Boy Rob.
When I talked to Rogers, in early June, he and his family had left their Channelview trailer after receiving death threats and moved into a nearby apartment. Instead of working with dogs, Rogers was spending his evenings taming feral cats, getting them to drink milk out of a saucer he kept right outside the front door. “Maybe I’ll get them tame enough that the kids can adopt them,” he said.
I asked Rogers what he thought of Manning and Davis, who had just been named officers of the year by a Houston law enforcement organization. His voice almost softened—almost. “It never occurred to me, not once, that those boys were cops. I thought they wanted to be real dogmen, so I taught them how to fight the right way—with dignity and honor, not letting their dogs get chewed up. And I know, deep down, they started loving it as much as I did. I could tell they had the blood for it. But now they get to go free and get all kinds of publicity while I go off to prison.”
He paused. “It don’t matter. Locking me up ain’t nothing compared to what they’ve already done to my dogs. They even took away our two boxers and killed them. Do you think that’s right? Do you think any of those dogs really wanted to be rescued so they could have a needle stuck in their ass? Come on, now, you tell me who the monster is. All of you people who call yourselves civilized go to boxing matches. You watch wrestling, and you watch those Ultimate Fighting Championships on television. What’s really the difference here?”
After viewing the DPS videotapes of Rogers standing in the box at the Dog House, exhorting his dogs to keep fighting, Rogers’s attorney, Rick Detoto, a respected young Houston criminal defense attorney, knew it would be an uphill battle to get an acquittal. “But I agree with my client. Morally, a juror should have a problem with cops deliberately subjecting all these dogs to abuse in order to arrest someone else,” Detoto said. “Would those cops stick a child in a house where a suspected child abuser lives in order to catch him? I don’t think so. And I have to say, when you see the undercover officers in those videotapes, they look like they’re having a really good time.”
Manning and Davis insist they were just playacting and that they were never seduced by Rogers or the other dogmen. But they do admit that their experience taught them about the dogmen’s fierce devotion to what they do. “We definitely forced dogfighting around here to go more underground,” Manning said. “We’ve noticed the talk on the dogfighting Web sites has gotten a lot more coded. But we’ll never get dogfighting to go away. There will always be a show every weekend night.”
Though Rogers believed he could have taken the stand and convinced a jury that dogfighting was a legitimate sport and not a crime, he finally decided in late June to accept an offer from the district attorney’s office: He agreed to plead guilty and will serve a one-year felony sentence in county jail, which means he could be out in six months—not bad compared with the two-year sentence he could have received. Smith said she decided to offer him the deal because he had no prior criminal record, which would have allowed a jury to give him probation. But, she added, if he is caught dogfighting again, he can be sent away to prison for two to ten years.
When I asked Rogers if he would ever go back to dogfighting, he said, “I don’t know, to be honest with you. But I will tell you that every night, I dream about my dogs making their moves, feinting to the left and then attacking to the right. My dogs were great dogs. They were beautiful, strong dogs. Oh, man, they were beautiful.”