Dogfighting Alive and Well in St. Petersburg

click to enlarge Rogue, the pit bull puppy veterinarians suspect was used as a bait dog. A St. Petersburg water meter reader found the pup under a car and fell in love with the tortured animal. - T. Collins
T. Collins
Rogue, the pit bull puppy veterinarians suspect was used as a bait dog. A St. Petersburg water meter reader found the pup under a car and fell in love with the tortured animal.

If this were a child, St. Petersburg would be losing its collective shit.

Apparently — and we say apparently because seriously, no one seems able to do a damn thing about this — dogfighting is a thing that happens in St. Pete, and while we'll organize a task force over curbside recycling or how much grass to use at the new pier, the lack of fucks we give about dogs like Rogue is astounding.

Last year, the North Pinellas Humane Society took in dogs from a dogfighting ring, but those dogs came from other states. Turns out,  though, dogfighting might be closer to home. Lots closer. Just ask anyone who lives or works on the South Side. There's the disproportionate amount of pit bulls kept as "pets" that never see the inside of a house, which, as anyone who has ever owned a dog knows, is the worst idea ever. Then there's the number of young pits you see walking with chains around their necks to build up the neck muscles. For fighting. Because, again, it's happening here.

On May 11, a St. Petersburg meter reader, T. Collins, happened upon a brutalized dog at 15th Street South and MLK (9th Avenue) in St. Petersburg.
"While nearing the end of my route today I saw a woman trying to coax a dog out from the middle of M.L.K and 15th Ave S. As I got closer I could see that the dog was very badly injured and the woman was crying.I stopped traffic and used my belt as a leash. I asked if it was her dog and she no. I walked the dog to safety and examined his wounds. At first I thought he had been hit by a car his wounds were so extensive. He has [a] two- inch laceration under his eye that is so deep you can see the muscle. His face is so swollen he can barely see. His nose and ear are ripped. Not to mention at least 100 new and old punctures all over his body. Even now his wounds continue to drip and ooze pus and blood everywhere. He is at least 10 lbs. underweight, severely dehydrated, exhausted and has fleas," she posted on Facebook.

Collins brought the puppy (vets estimate the dog is about six months old) to Skyway Animal Hospital, where veterinarians treated the dog as best they could. Dr. William Slocumb says the puppy came in "covered with puncture wounds" – all infected – and "deep lacerations." 

The puppy, whom Collns intends to keep, will likely need surgery once his physical wounds have healed. Right now, vets at Skyway Animal Hospital are treating for pain and infection. Rogue — that's the puppy's new name — gets pain injections and antibiotics. Vets had to give him anesthesia to clean his wounds. Slocumb says that they can't completely close the gash under Rogue's eye just yet.

"We closed it up partially just because he was gaping so much," Slocumb said "but we have to leave the majority of it open to flush it. He's probably going to need some corrective surgery down the road." 

Collins says she thinks someone in the area used Rogue as a bait dog to train dogs for dogfighting, as something called a "bait dog" which is exactly what it sounds like.

"I believe he was used as a practice pup for dog fighting. They let the other dogs hone their skills on him for their fights," she posted. "He seems so even tempered and gentle, he is not a fighter."

Slocumb agrees and says his clinic — at the south end of 34th Street in the Maximo area — sees dogs they believe are used in dogfighting.

"Unfortunately, we see a lot more than we want to see, but not usually to this extent. We see dogs that we think we're not getting the true story on," Slocumb told Creative Loafing, adding that sometimes the dogs arrive too late for much other than euthanasia, although he treats every dog as best he can. "We're just happy when they're brought in."

Collins says she wants to see the dogfighting come to an end.

"It enrages me to think that this is going on in my very own city. Please, please, please help me find out who did this," she posted.

John Hohenstern, a senior animal control officer with Pinellas County Animal Services, estimates his agency receives less than 10 calls a year "that can be acted upon."

"They're very well-organized," he says of the dogfighting rings. "When it's over, it's over. The only thing left is the loser, and sometimes not even that. We know it exists, we know it's out there."

Social media code words and text messaging are part of how Hohenstern says he suspects dogfighting rings communicate with fans. And, by fans, we mean "sick bastards."

As for Rogue, he also had infections in what was left of his ears and was, according to the vet, "loaded with worms." A crowdsourcing web site has raised just over $1,000 to pay for the pup's care, but Slocumb says his office will treat the young dog even if Collins can't cover all the expenses.

"We're going to help him regardless," Slocumb promised. "I'm going to do whatever we need to do for the dog anyway."

Collins intends to keep the dog.

"I refuse to take him to shelter. He has already been through too much," she said. In reality, too, most shelters wouldn't have the resources to rehabilitate a dog this badly injured. 

"He must be a tough little dog... obviously he's tough and he's just as sweet as he can be," Slocumb says. "I don't blame her one bit."

Contribute to his care

Report suspected dogfighting to Pinellas County Animal Services (click here or call 727-582-2600) and your local police. As if motivation to save pups like Rogue wasn't enough, the Humane Society offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dogfighting or cockfighting. Call 877-TIP-HSUS.

PETA has also sweetened the pot with up to a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this violent crime.

Anyone with information about this case should call the St. Petersburg Police Department at 727-893-7550 or 727-893-7780 and use case number 2015-024294.


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Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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