David Grow, with the Monroe County Animal Control, puts one of the recovered dogs into their truck after rescuing them from 527 Ida-Maybee Rd. Sunday.
The arrests were made when authorities, acting on information obtained in a federal investigation, executed a search warrant at 527 Ida-Maybee Rd. in Raisinville Township, about 2 miles north of Ida and 9 miles west of Monroe.
Detective Heath Velliquette said the suspects were holding an actual fight with dogs in a ring in an attached garage when deputies and Michigan State Police entered the house about 1:35 a.m.
Ten suspects were detained in the garage, while others were apprehended after fleeing the residence upon the officers’ arrival. The sheriff’s office K-9 Team was used to track the eight who fled, all of whom were believed to have been involved in the dog fight, he said.
The men and women arrested in the raid were from Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, and Detroit, investigators said. They are being held without bond in the county jail pending arraignment today in Monroe County District Court.
Detective Velliquette said the suspects face multiple counts of felony dogfighting, which carries a possible four-year prison sentence and $50,000 fine.
Maj. David Thompson of the sheriff’s office said the names of the people arrested will not be made available until after they are arraigned.
Investigators took five dogs from the garage, including two that were badly injured. The dogs are believed to have been taken by Monroe County Animal Control and Michigan Humane Society officers to the sheriff’s department kennel on South Raisinville Road.
According to the sheriff’s office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, which conducts federal investigations of dogfighting across the country, learned of the alleged fighting and gambling at the residence, and specifically that two dogs would be in the pit ring for a championship fight and “thousands of dollars” were expected to be wagered.
Federal agents notified sheriff’s detectives and other law enforcement about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, resulting in the issuance of a county search warrant later in the evening, Major Thompson said.
In addition to the dogs, authorities seized more than $40,000 in cash, a large quantity of cocaine and marijuana, and a handgun that officers said was in the possession of one of the suspects.
Detective Velliquette said suspected evidence of dogfighting was also taken in the search, including a dog-training treadmill and a dogfighting ring in the garage.
Agriculture department representatives did not respond Sunday to an interview request.
At least four other dogs that could have been involved in the dogfighting operation were discovered Sunday afternoon at the residence, possibly overlooked by investigators during the raid.
Trina Stillwagon, an advocate for “pit bull” type dogs and president and founder of the newly created Monroe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she and volunteers from her group found the dogs, among them at least one pit bull puppy.
She said she the animals were located about 450 feet behind the house in a wooded area.
“They are so hungry they are eating dirt,” she said during a cell-phone call from the property. “They would have starved to death if they were left out here tonight.”
Animal Control deputies went to the area last night to retrieve the dogs.
Ms. Stillwagon said authorities rarely catch an operation while the suspects are carrying out actual dogfighting and gambling, especially one of this magnitude.
Because of county budget cuts that curtailed staffing at the sheriff’s Animal Control division, she said she was concerned about how the dogs would be cared for, including any plans to have them placed in a no-kill shelter, or whether they would be euthanized.
“We will be going to Animal Control in the morning. My concern is what happened to the injured animals, where they were taken, and where they were treated,” said Ms. Stillwagon, former director of the Monroe County Humane Society, a private, nonprofit shelter in Monroe.
Monroe County Prosecutor William Paul Nichols said the number of suspects and evidence seized put this case as the largest suspected dogfighting operation during his association with the office.
“By far, this certainly would be the biggest,” Mr. Nichols said.
A neighbor who would not give his name said he knew little about the people who lived in the house, other than they rent the two-story home. He said had seen people arriving and leaving with dogs during the year that they have lived there.
“They definitely had a lot of dogs,” he said about the occupants.
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