Fight Cruelty

Halifax County, Virginia—April 2011

dog on a chain standing in dirt

The Case

In 2010, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) learned that the targets of a Virginia drug and weapons investigation were also involved in dog fighting. To gain an entrée into the world of their targets, agents purchased a fighting dog.

Though dog fighting was not initially part of their investigation, the ATF agents decided they couldn’t stand by while their targets’ dogs suffered. They called the ASPCA for help, and some of our top experts flew to Virginia to meet with the ATF agents.

ASPCA Animal Fighting Specialist Terry Mills and others provided local authorities in Halifax County, Virginia, with the tools they needed to pursue a dog fighting case, and we prepared to take part in a raid on the targets’ property.

The Raid

On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 2011, the ASPCA, ATF agents, local law enforcement and several other agencies raided the targets’ property—a barren lot with a dilapidated mobile home—and 41 dogs were confiscated. The dogs included Pit Bull adults and puppies, many of whom showed scarring and other signs of fighting, and Beagle adults and puppies. (The Beagles were likely being bred for sale.)

As ATF and other agents began searching the property for weapons and narcotics evidence, ASPCA responders began documenting the dogs and their condition, as well as gathering evidence such as chains and dog fighting implements, to help prosecutors build a dog fighting case.

The team later collected DNA samples from the dogs and submitted them to Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), a criminal dog fighting DNA database.

Next, responders moved the dogs to temporary housing, where they also received veterinary care.

After a few days, when the dogs had settled in to their new environment, behavior assessments began. ASPCA Vice President Dr. Pamela Reid and her Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team conducted ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Field Behavior Evaluations on all the dogs, determining that many were suitable for life with families.

The Aftermath

The ASPCA remained involved with the dogs rescued from the raid, working to ensure that each received the best outcome possible. Mills and Reid even personally drove the dog purchased by the ATF agents to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Colorado, where he received cutting-edge behavioral help and was adopted by a loving family.

The four suspects, Jermaine Thaxton, William Thaxton, Jonathan Kennard Williams and Levar Adams, were all brought into custody soon after the raid, and two—Williams and Jermaine Thaxton—were charged with dog fighting.

In late June, Jermaine Thaxton pleaded guilty in federal court. On October 6, 2011, he was sentenced to seven months in prison and three years of supervised release after his prison term. In August, Williams pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to drugs, weapons and dog fighting. On January 19, 2012, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and six years of probation.

“Organized dog fighting is a brutal form of animal abuse where dogs are exploited and forced to fight as their owners profit from their torture,” Mills said at the time. “We are determined to protect our nation’s animals from this form of cruelty.”