A federal judge has granted prosecutors’ request to permanently forfeit 27 of 64 pit bulls seized earlier this year in connection with an alleged dog-fighting ring in the Quad-Cities.
The Dec. 2 ruling by U.S. District Judge Sara Darrow will allow the U.S. Marshals Service to “dispose” of the dogs, which includes transporting them to a shelter or other appropriate organization.
The dogs have been held at a temporary shelter run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals since they were seized.
Darrow also granted prosecutors’ request to humanely euthanize two additional pit bulls who have become “aggressive and agitated, pose a danger to their handlers and have little prospect of rehabilitation.”
“These dogs are the tragic victims of dog fighting, and the ASPCA is continuing to work with prosecutors to ensure their abusers are held responsible,” ASPCA spokeswoman Kelly Krause said Wednesday.
Krause said placement decisions have not yet been made for the dogs as of Wednesday.
“Our animal behaviorists have been conducting behavior evaluations for each individual dog, and those dogs that are suitable for adoption will be placed with our partner shelters across the country,” she said.
Federal and local law enforcement and the ASPCA removed 64 dogs from a dozen homes in Rock Island and Davenport on April 14.
One of the dogs taken from one Rock Island home died the next day while being transported to a temporary shelter because of severe anemia, according to court documents.
Krause did not have a specific amount the ASPCA has spent on the dogs’ care, but the organization has spent significant resources providing veterinary care and temporary shelter.
She added the government is providing funds for some costs of caring for the animals.
No charges have been filed in the case, although federal prosecutors confirmed in May a criminal investigation is under way.
On April 15, prosecutors filed a 15-page complaint for forfeiture and claimed the dogs are subject to seizure and forfeiture because they were used as gambling devices and were involved in a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. The measure regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers.
Confidential sources and cooperating witnesses provided information to law enforcement that several individuals in the area have been involved or participated in an illegal dog-fighting operation, including gambling on dog fights in Illinois, Iowa, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the complaint.
They also have purchased and transported dogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the complaint.
The complaint claims, in at least two cases, dogs that lost a fight were killed by their owners and then hung by the neck in front of spectators.
The complaint named 17 individuals believed to be involved in dog fighting. No charges have been filed against them as of Tuesday.
Prosecutors filed an emergency motion for default in October against 14 individuals — five of whom they have named as possible participants in the ring — served in the case who did not file a claim or answer to contest the forfeiture of any of the dogs.
That same month, prosecutors also filed the motion seeking to euthanize the two additional dogs.
The dogs were taken from two homes in the 1800 block of West 8th Street in Davenport and the 400 block of 7th Street in Rock Island.
Both locations contained “strong indicia” of dog fighting, including training devices, medications, documents and kennels with a lack of access to food and water, Darrow noted in her Dec. 2 order.
Darrow wrote that despite rehabilitative efforts, the two dogs have shown aggression toward their handlers and they are experiencing an “extremely reduced quality of life.”
She also noted in her order that the owners who filed written claims to the dogs do not have procedural standing in the case because they did not make a verified complaint, meaning that it was made under oath and under penalty of perjury, which is required to proceed in the civil forfeiture case.
Eight other people have filed claims for the rest of the dogs. Only one person, a woman who was not named as a possible participant in the dog fighting ring, has filed a verified claim.
The claims have not yet been resolved.