Personal Health

Dog-Fighting Ring Allegedly Operated Out of Home that Doubles as a Day-Care Center

Reports of a dog-fighting ring operating out of a home that houses a day-care center were bad enough. Then, a cell-phone video showed a dog burned alive.

CHICAGO, IL -- The dog-fighting ring in a Chicago suburb involved nobody famous; its greatest impact was likely on the children attending a day-care center next door. Not so big a story for the national media, even as it touches on a case currently before the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, another saga of dog-fighting refuses to die. Outside Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia last week, protesters greeted Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, recently returned to the football field after serving a sentence for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. "Power to the Puppies," one sign read. "Stop. Think. Boycott," read another.

 "Vick is the best," some fans yelled.  "I hate dogs...," sneered another one. "I am glad Vick killed them." Several fans pushed and shoved the protesters, and spilled Coke on their signs.

Others told the protesters to "get a life" -- that Vick's dog-fighting is over and he deserves a second chance.

What the sheriff's department of Cook County, Illinois, found in a blood-stained garage in the Chicago suburb of Maywood -- just a week before the Eagles-Buccaneer game where fans and animal-rights protesters faced off -- shows that sentiment taken to its extreme. In that garage, and in the home of Charles Sutton, 42, sheriff's deputies found a fighting dog and equipment used to train dogs to fight. But Sutton's house is home to another business: a day-care center operated by his wife, where, until she surrendered her child-care license as a result of the sheriff's raid, 10 children were entrusted to her care.

A block away, in the home of Martez Anderson, 38, deputies found a number of abused canines. Anderson, together with Sutton and Lance Webb, 27, was arrested on misdemeanor charges, until the deputies made a grisly discovery on his cell phone: a video of a dog being burned alive. Authorities then upgraded the charges against Anderson to felony dog-fighting. Investigators are examining the video for links to Sutton and Webb.

When arresting officers arrived, children "were playing on a swing set just 10 feet away from a vicious fighting dog and blood-stained floors," according Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Officers found syringes, medication, bite sticks and harnesses in the garage.

Dog-fighting is heinous in and of itself: for the sake of entertainment, dogs are pitted against each other for the sport of drawing blood, and will fight to the death. Most dog-fighting shows are illegal gambling operations, with spectators betting on their favorites. But the damage to society doesn't end there, according to a fact sheet on the Web site of the Human Society of the United States:

Numerous law enforcement raids have unearthed many disturbing facets of this illegal "sport." Young children are sometimes present at the events, which can promote insensitivity to animal suffering, enthusiasm for violence and a lack of respect for the law...And dog-fighting has been connected to other kinds of violence—even homicide, according to newspaper reports. In addition, illegal drugs are often sold and used at dogfights.

Even Michael Vick seems to get that now. Explaining what everyone from teachers to law enforcement officers to criminologists know, violence against animals predicts human violence and creates both active and passive participants, Vick now says. "My whole life has been numb. I was numb to the violence in my community,"  Vick said in an apology he posted on the hip-hop site, Global Grind. Vick even made a visit to Chicago this summer to preach against dog-fighting.

But dog-fighting is such a part of everyday life in some poor communities, the day care operator, whose husband Charles Sutton is charged with felony dog-fighting, maintains that the children were "never allowed" near the dogs -- as if that's the point. Did parents who left preschoolers there think it was a petting zoo?

In Maywood, it seems as if the alleged dog-fighting operation was an open secret.

"They would take the dogs in the garage during the day and you could hear them fighting," Guadalupe Castro, 40, who lives on the same block as the day care center told the Chicago Tribune. "I was scared because sometimes the dogs would get loose and run down the street." Dogs were tied to poles where they would bark and try to attack each other, a woman from the neighborhood who was afraid to give her name told the Tribune.

At the nearby home of Martez Anderson, where police think the fighting animals were housed, police found a dog with a maimed leg, one that couldn't stand and a nursing female with month-old puppies in a wire cage soaked in feces and urine with no food or water. Nine dogs were seized all together, including one with a missing eye, one with its chest shredded from fighting and one with its genitals nearly severed. Anderson, whose cell phone revealed the gruesome immolation video, dismissed the condition of the puppies seized on his property -- including one with an eye missing. "They probably could have did with a bath," he said.

Hopefully the Supreme Court won't be in similar denial as it considers whether dog-fighting and other violent videos should be protected as free speech, a case in which itjust heard oral arguments.

On September 24, the Chicago was horrified by the beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, captured on a cell phone, who was caught in violence between between rival school gangs. Although, from a legal standpoint, his case and that of the Maywood alleged daycare dog-fighting ring are unrelated, in a broader sense, they speak to a terrible strain in our culture: From the bullies at the Eagles game to the men who thrill to the torture of animals in what should be a child's safety zone, it's a cycle of violence passed from one generation to the next.



Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist who frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. A former medical copywriter, her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as on the BBC and in the original National Lampoon.