Citing concerns over animal welfare and illegal gambling, Harrisburg is asking its residents to help stop a scourge of illegal dogfighting.
City communications director Joyce Davis announced on Monday that Harrisburg obtained a $20,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to launch a public information campaign about dogfighting. So far, city officials have purchased ads on Facebook that explain the warning signs of dogfighting and ways to report it to law enforcement.
Davis said that the campaign did not arise as a response to a single incident or spate of reports. Rather, it seeks to curb an on-going animal abuse problem that also enables illegal gambling.
“We want to stamp this out,” she said.
The issue of dogfighting came to the fore locally in June 2017, when Harrisburg police officers staged a raid on a dogfighting ring on S. 14th Street. Since then, the bureau has issued charges on three counts of illegal dogfighting in the past year, as well as one count of possession of dogfighting paraphernalia, according to animal control officer William Sandstrom.
Davis and Sandstrom both said that, aside from the charges issued by police, it’s hard to gauge the prevalence of dogfighting locally.
“It’s significant enough that the state would issue a grant,” Davis said. “It’s very underground, so it’s hard to give statistics.”
In the winter, most dogfights take place in basements, warehouses or garages, Sandstrom said. Residents should report an unusual number of people congregating in an abandoned space. Sandstorm also said that fights will elicit high-pitched squeals from animals, not aggressive barks.
An increasing number of dogfights are impromptu, according to Sandstrom. These fights do not attract large crowds, but are held when owners encounter each other in the street and let their animals fight.
Sandstrom said that residents should report any dog owner whose animal has severe scarring, cropped ears or a shortened tail, all of which indicate abuse and possibly fighting.
If city residents suspect dogfighting, they can call 311 from within city limits to report it. Reports that result in charges are eligible for a $5,000 reward from the Humane Society of the United States.
Sandstrom said that animal patrol officers might encounter dogfights on regular patrols, but stressed the importance of citizen reporting.
“Our goal is to bring people out and get them to call 311,” Sandstrom said about the city’s new campaign.
Davis said that community response to the campaign, still in its nascent stages, has been overwhelmingly positive. The city plans to expand the messages to billboards in the spring.
“Our community cares about this issue, we will work to wipe it out,” Sandstrom said.