When the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office raided an illegal dogfighting camp in Alabama in what was to become known as the second largest of its kind in the US, they were greeted by the stuff of nightmares.
Emaciated pit bulls tethered with heavy chains, scratching at flea-bitten skin, dying of thirst, hunger and exhaustion under a scorching American South sun. Filthy kennels crudely constructed from rotten wood and rusted metal. The scarred remains of dogs that couldn’t withstand the abuse.
Dogfighting is not a new bloodsport; rings can be found across the US and far further abroad and even feature in underground black and white magazines. Pit bulls are often the stars of these twisted routines, being smaller in stature and favoured for their strength, endurance and high pain tolerance, and can bring in up to $100,000. Dogs that lose are often hanged, drowned or electrocuted; a cruel end to a life lived in suffering.
The 2013 raid in Alabama was a high note in an otherwise bleak story. Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dogfighting charges, receiving sentences ranging from six months to eight years, the longest terms ever handed down in a federal dog fighting case. The dogs themselves were also treated to a far better fate with many put in rehabilitation and rehoused in temporary or permanent homes across the country.
Photographer Lisa Cervone shot six of the 367 rescued pit bulls, and the images are equal parts haunting and uplifting. Says Cervone, “I have only these six images since these dogs have been released slowly from the raid. They were to be put down and deemed untrainable but are now thriving. (They were) very skittish to shoot, but very sweet and sad at the same time.”
Time will tell how the survivors will thrive, but as these images prove the prognosis looks good.
A heartfelt thank you to all the photographers, artists, illustrators, and writers who trusted us, dived in, and brought us delight, grace, excitement, courage, wilderness, and wonder over the last five years. Their work not only reflects the bonds we share with our animal companions, it also celebrates their spirit.
None of this would be possible without our four-legged counterparts who sprinkle magic dust time and time again, and our readers, who embraced this kooky idea, rallied around us, and made this world theirs too. With friends like these, who needs nine lives?
February 5, 2019