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Dogfighting bust

Police officers rescue dogs, one of which has died, and confiscate training equipment such as treadmills, weight scales, syringes, steroids and antibiotics

Thursday, July 01, 1999

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was just after midnight Friday when Pittsburgh police Officers Nick Uva Jr. and Eric Churilla, on routine patrol in the city's Fairywood neighborhood, spotted a cage covered in blood inside an open garage.

A pitt bull rescued by Pittsburgh police finds a friend in Kathy Hecker from Animal Friends. The dog, with drainage tubes now on his reattached ears, was injured in a dogfight over the weekend. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette) 

Within the hour, five men were under arrest, two badly injured animals were rescued and officers from the city's West End station had begun collecting evidence in a case that authorities hope will help them crack the shadowy world of dogfighting in the county.

The case -- the first dogfighting arrest for either officer -- is the largest in the area, said Kathy Hecker, an Animal Friends humane agent.

"The officers, they really did it right. They saw enough blood and heard enough crying that they knew to follow up," she said.

She hopes the case opens the floodgates for other prosecutions.

"It's very nice to have five people under arrest. I'm telling you, infiltrating dogfighting is a lot harder than infiltrating a drug ring," Hecker said.

In addition to rescuing the dogs, one of which has since died, the officers confiscated training equipment such as treadmills and weight scales; syringes, steroids and antibiotics; three weapons; and a videotape showing the fight in which the dogs were injured.

"I had no idea what we were going to find. I was horrified," said Uva, who found the dogs, one with its ears bitten off and the other bloodied and near death from puncture wounds sustained in the fights.

The videotape that the officers viewed later showed the real horror.

"It was pretty bad," Churilla said. "I couldn't stand watching [it]. You could hear them taunting the dogs. I'm thinking how can you do this. The thing that went through my mind was, how could somebody do this to a dog."

Those arrested were John E. Moran, 26, of Lawrenceville, Phillip Worthy, 37, of the North Side, and Marvin Howard, 27, of Homewood, all of whom were charged with animal fighting, conspiracy and firearms violations.

Also arrested were Erik Craven, 23, of Ingram, and Otis Townsend, 26, of Fairywood, who both were charged with animal fighting and conspiracy.

All face a hearing on Tuesday.

Police last night were still searching for the dogs' owner, William Tench II, 23, of the West End, who they say fled the scene.

Howard, Townsend and Worthy could not be reached for comment last night. Jail officials said they did not have updated records so it wasn't clear if the three had made bond.

A woman who answered the phone at Moran's house would not answer any questions.

Craven, reached by phone, said he had been at his girlfriend's house in Broadhead Manor Friday night, and early Saturday was walking home to Ingram when he saw Townsend and Tench, whom he knew from the neighborhood. He said he stopped to talk with them outside the garage.

"I was on my way home. I was just there. I happened to see the guys," Craven said.

He said that he was not at a dogfight and, despite police assertions that he can be seen on the videotape, he believes he is a victim of mistaken identity.

But police said that the tape, which is expected to be played in court, clearly shows Craven and those arrested, as well as others, at a dogfight. They say it may provide other clues about the underground network and where the fight was held.

"I do expect to make other arrests," said Lt. Richard Dwyer, acting commander of the West End station, who believes the work of Uva and Churilla could have a ripple effect as police try to learn more about dogfighting.

"They were really alert and did a fine job. They realized when they saw those cages [something was wrong]. It's such a hard thing to zero in on it. When the dogs get injured, we usually find them dead somewhere in the woods," he said.

Hecker is now responsible for the safety of the surviving dog, whose ears had to be sewn back on at a veterinary emergency clinic. Drainage tubes stick out of his head to prevent infection and one leg is wrapped. His body is covered with old scars from previous fights and new puncture injuries.

"He probably had some name like Terminator or Vindicator. We just call him Buddy," Hecker said, allowing the docile creature to kiss her face. "They did a real good job in the emergency clinic putting him back together. His suffering is over as soon as he feels better."

Buddy, like a human, is in protective custody, his whereabouts not being released.

Hecker has already moved Buddy twice since Saturday because she is concerned for his safety and for the veterinarians caring for him. She said she will continue to keep the dog moving while the case makes its way through the court system.

Buddy, believed to be about 2 years old, is an American Staffordshire terrier, which most people refer to as a pit bull.

"He'll be held as evidence as long as we need him," Hecker said. "He's probably getting a year's reprieve from the horror he's lived until now."

After that, animal shelters will try to find a home for him, one where there are no children, cats or fences he could escape from to chase other animals.

If no home is found for Buddy, however, he will be euthanized, like other dogs from recent cases, Hecker said.

Anyone with information about dogfighting in the city or county may call the dogfighting task force at 412-351-3647. Rewards are offered.

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