The American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty of Animals on Thursday honored two officers who were involved in the investigation into a dog-fighting ring in the Quad-Cities that led to the seizure of 64 pit bulls last year.

Terry Mills, director of the ASPCA’s Blood Sports Investigations, presented "Champion for Animal" awards to Rock Island Police officers Paul Girskis and Timothy Muehler and FBI Special Agent Samantha Maxwell during an event at the Barrel House in Moline.

The award presentation coincides with Saturday's National Dog Fighting Day, which was created by the ASPCA to spread awareness of the brutality and pervasiveness of dog fighting in the United States.

“Dog fighting is one of the cruelest forms of animal cruelty, one of the worst ones of animal cruelty, and our goal as the ASPCA, it's a lofty goal, is to end dog fighting,” Mills said.

He said after the presentation that participation by law enforcement is crucial to stopping dog fighting.

Animal fighting is a felony in all 50 states. It also is a felony under federal law.

On April 14, investigators seized 64 pit bull-type dogs from 10 homes in Rock Island and one in Davenport as part of an investigation into a dog-fighting ring that began a year earlier through information developed by the Rock Island Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Quad-Cities Federal Gang Task Force.

The dogs were placed into the custody of the ASPCA. A civil case to permanently forfeit the dogs is also pending.

In February, federal prosecutors indicted 10 men on conspiracy and dog fighting charges. 

Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen said the investigation was the largest dog fighting-related operation the department has ever worked on.

The ASPCA award helps validate the department’s efforts, he said.

“This was a very manpower and labor intensive operation,” VenHuizen said. “It’s nice to be recognized for what we’ve done.”

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