Three men operating what appeared to be dog kennels out of their homes on Long Island were actually breeding and training pit bulls for a giant dogfighting ring, authorities say.
Thirty-six pit bulls -- ranging in age from one week to 7 years -- were seized in raids at the so-called kennels at 38 Birch St. and 135 Irving Ave. in Wyandanch, Suffolk County police and the New York Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force say. Half of the pit bulls were puppies.
Two of the dogs had to be euthanized because they'd been attacked by their mother, authorities said. A third dog named Sophie had been so abused and tortured that she'd become a threat to humans and had to be euthanized, too.
Nearly all the dogs were found chained and segregated, with no food or water, and with injuries from fights, including bite wounds that left scars. One had an untreated broken front leg and another was severely malnourished, authorities said.
The dogs had fleas, dirty coats, and long claws -- signs of solitary life on hard ground and indications they'd rarely been walked.
"Dogfighting is an obscenely vicious and cruel form of animal abuse that tortures animals and endangers the safety of the public," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "It's barbaric, despicable and illegal."
Authorities began looking into the alleged dogfighting ring as part of an investigation dubbed Operation Bloodline beginning in March. The search warrants were executed over a number of weeks since late September.
Richard Davis, 34; Martin Newkirk, 49; and Taikeem Wheeler, 26, all of Wyandanch, were operating kennels out of their homes that actually served as staging ground for the dogfighting ring, the attorney general's office said.
Dogfighting paraphernalia recovered from the homes showed just how sophisticated the breeding and training were, police say. There were bloody breaking sticks (designed to separate pit bulls when one's jaw becomes latched in a grip on its opponent while engaged in dogfighting), heavy chains, double-thick dog collars, weighted dog vests, treadmills and performance-enhancing dietary supplements -- all to build strength and endurance, as a dogfight to the death can last longer than an hour.
Sophie, the aggressive dog that was euthanized, had allegedly been touted for her powess as a dogfighter, having been bred from another pit bull that had won multiple fights. Dog fighters often make their money by selling dogs from strong "bloodlines," descended from other successful fights, the attorney general's office says. Breeders sell puppies of fighter pit bulls for more than $1,600 per pup.
"The Suffolk County Police Department will continue to seek out such depraved individuals who have the mistaken belief they have the right to beat, maim and murder innocent animals," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini. "There is no place in our county or society for such inhumane acts of abuse towards any animal and especially for profit."
The lawyer for Wheeler told News 4 the dogs were well cared for and lived with the family, and provided photos showing the dogs with the Wheeler family, including Sophie. He called the arrests a political stunt.
"He doesn't breed dogs, sell dogs, fight dogs -- none of that," said Wheeler's lawyer.
The rescued dogs are being sheltered by the ASPCA in order to allow them to heal. Authorities are hoping they'll be retrained and then adopted.
Dogfighting is a crime in all 50 states, and in New York, each charge can carry a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of $25,000.
"Dog fighting is a barbaric act that exploits the trusting nature of innocent animals and condemns them to a life of violence and suffering for human profit," said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the local ASPCA.
The three arrested suspects are facing felony charges of animal fighting and animal cruelty. It wasn't immediately known whether they had attorneys who could comment on the charges.