When the Humane Society of the U.S. sends the media release
SEVIERVILLE, Tennessee––When are 50 pit bulls seized from an alleged fighting dog breeding kennel in rural Tennessee not pit bulls?
When the Humane Society of the U.S. helps with the bust, writes the press release about it, and distributes it to media nationwide, while pushing the repeal of an Aurora, Colorado ordinance meant to ensure that people who keep pit bulls keep them out of trouble.
Bannered WBIR-TV of Knoxville, “50 pit bulls seized from suspected dog fighting operation.”
Elaborated the WBIR staff account, “Mark Heatherly, 47, of Sevierville, was charged with two counts of dog fighting, with additional charges pending. His wife, Kimberly Heatherly, 45, and son, Jacob R. Heatherly, are charged with conspiracy to commit dog fighting. All three are also charged with possession of marijuana and hydrocodone. The 50 dogs who were seized range in age from four weeks to mid-teens. Some of them have scars that are consistent with dog fighting. The sheriff’s department described them as American pit bulls.”
Affirmed WRCB-TV of Chattanooga, “50 dogs taken, 3 charged in Sevier pit bull raid.”
Agreed Associated Press, “East Tennessee authorities have removed dozens of pit bulls from a breeding operation and arrested three people.”
HSUS omitted the words “pit bull”
But the words “pit bull” never appeared in the HSUS account. The HSUS version ignored the sheriff’s department identification of the dogs, while quoting Sheriff Ron Seals’ appreciation of HSUS help with the bust.
Said the HSUS release, “HSUS brought its mobile crime lab and assisted law enforcement in identifying and documenting evidence, as well as coordinating the rescue effort. Blount County SPCA also assisted in handling and documenting the dogs. PetSmart Charities provided necessary supplies and enrichment items for the dogs. HSUS removed the dogs from the property pending final disposition of this case.”
The alleged fighting pit bulls are to be “evaluated for potential placement with HSUS Dogfighting Rescue Coalition placement partners,” HSUS said.
Bust came two weeks before Aurora vote
The Sevierville raid came two weeks before the November 4, 2014 general elections nationwide.
Among the local ballot measures receiving the most national attention will be whether Aurora, Colorado will keep a 2005 ordinance which requires keepers of pit bulls to carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance; requires that pit bulls be confined within securely fenced and locked yards when allowed outdoors on the owner’s property; and be muzzled and on a four-foot leash when off the owner’s property. The ordinance also prohibited bringing new pit bulls into Aurora after January 1, 2006.
The Aurora ordinance was passed five months after a pit bull mauled Xavier Benavidez, 11, in an unprovoked attack. Just a week after the passage of the Aurora ordinance, 10-year-old Gregg Jones was mauled by three of his family’s own pit bulls. Two of the three dogs were not licensed in compliance with the ordinance.
There has not been a disfiguring dog attack in Aurora since then, but elsewhere around the U.S., more than 4,000 pit bulls have killed 212 people and disfigured more than 2,500. Pit bulls are about 5% of the U.S. dog population. All other dogs combined have killed 127 people and disfigured 980.
“Since the ban has been in place, pit bull bites are down 73%,” Aurora Animal Care Division spokesperson Cheryl Conway told Aurora Sentinel staff writer Rachel Sapin in March 2014.
The Aurora ordinance has also drastically reduced dog impoundments and killing of impounded dogs at the Aurora Animal Shelter.
“According to city documents,” Sapin wrote, “before the ordinance was enacted in 2005, up to 70% of kennels in the Aurora Animal Shelter were occupied by pit bulls with pending court disposition dates or with no known owner. That number is now only 10% to 20% of kennels.
Said Conway, “There hasn’t been a human mauling in many years. Complaints and requests related to pit bulls are down 50%. Euthanasia of pit bull dogs is down 93%. Those few who are put down are primarily those that come in as strays, whose owners don’t come to claim them.”
HSUS supports repeal
Despite the success of the Aurora ordinance, HSUS Colorado state director Jacqueline Pyun in a February 7, 2014 letter to the Aurora City Council joined organizations called ColoRADogs and Coloradans for Breed Neutral Dog Laws Inc. in declaring war on the breed-specific aspects that have made it successful.
Though HSUS has left the local campaigning to the local organizations, HSUS has continued to back the repeal effort. Acknowledged ColoRADogs in a recent Facebook posting, “HSUS has been such a great support for us! Our local rep, Jacquelyn is awesome!”
Second big Tennessee bust in 2014
Meanwhile back in Tennessee, the Sevierville bust was the second Tennessee dogfighting case in seven months to attract national notice. A federal grand jury on August 25, 2014 indicted Michael A. Davis, 34, on 30 charges in connection with the first case, 27 of them felonies.
Summarized WKRN-TV of Nashville, “Davis was first arrested on April 12, 2014 in connection with a large-scale heroin and cocaine trafficking bust. Dogs and evidence of dog fighting were discovered at his home during his arrest. Authorities executed search warrants on the residence 10 days later and ultimately seized 38 dogs. Many of the dogs had scars and open wounds.”
Also seized from the Davis premises were “treadmills and other items typically used to train dogs to fight, including syringes likely used to give the animals injections,” WKRN reported. “Over $234,000 in cash was also found in a bag in the woods behind the home. Police believe it was connected to the drug case.”
The Sevierville case brought the total number of alleged fighting pit bulls impounded by U.S. law enforcement in 2014 to at least 390, the second lowest tally in at least 15 years.
Only 145 alleged fighting pit bulls are known to have been impounded in 2012, but the average since 2000 has been more than 1,000, with peak totals of circa 1,600 in both 2002 and 2009.