Sunday, June 10, 2007
By Paul Newberry, The Associated Press Through all attempts to cover his tracks — secretive lingo, coded Internet chatter, a move from Pennsylvania to Texas — Thomas Weigner was intently pursued by a vigilant group of animal-loving sleuths. For years, they suspected him of being a bigwig in dogfighting's shady underworld, a breeder and trainer of fearsome canines who willingly would rip each other apart for the amusement of their bloodthirsty masters. But it was hard to get close to Weigner. He made sure his inner circle was limited to family and trusted friends, though he seemed to live a normal life at a well-kept brick home and 24-acre spread in rural east Texas. Then, in the middle of a warm August night, everything came crashing down. No, it wasn't a group of warrant-wielding lawmen who invaded Weigner's sanctuary, looking to find the telltale signs of animal abuse and slap the cuffs on him. These were masked, fatigue-wearing gunmen who burst into the home. They tied everyone up and began rummaging through every nook and cranny, desperate to find the $100,000 in cash that Weigner supposedly collected after one of his top dogs whipped another grand champion. By the time the invaders fled back into the night, Weigner was crumpled on the ground, bleeding to death from a gunshot just above his right knee. Soon, the property was crawling with guys wearing badges. They were revolted at what they found when the sun came up. And they were shocked at just how far the case would lead. "It was very much an eye opener," said Greg Arthur, the sheriff in Liberty County, "as far as the dog fight industry and how big it actually is." Murder has a way of making people talk. When the Liberty County sheriff's office began snooping for leads, they found a road that led in all directions. Pittsburgh. Atlanta. Los Angeles. Dayton, Ohio. Even Ecuador. And they kept hearing one name in particular: Michael Vick. "Ohhhh, yes," said Liberty County sheriff's Capt. Chip Fairchild. "When we were in Dayton, they mentioned it there. In Atlanta and Pittsburgh, too. They all knew about Michael Vick being into it and sinking big dollars into it. We kept hearing that over and over. That wasn't a trail we needed to go down, because there was no indication that he had ever been here or knew our guy (Weigner). But our guy certainly knew people who knew Michael Vick." 'Guard dogs or fighting dogs' For many people, dogfighting wasn't on the radar until Vick, star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, got swept up in it. In April, when investigators raided a Vick-owned home in Surry County, Va., as part of a drug investigation involving a cousin of his, they stumbled upon a clandestine kennel out back. Sixty-six dogs, mostly pit bulls, were seized, along with evidence of an organized fighting operation: treadmills rigged up for training; "break sticks" that are used to pry apart the powerful jaws of fighting animals; blood-soaked carpeting that might have been used in a fighting pit; veterinary medicines for treating wounds; and "rape stands," hideous contraptions used to restrain female pit bulls during the breeding process. Whole story here. Blog Notes I am a southerner. In the 33 years I lived in the south, one didn't hear much about the dog fighting industry. I am not saying that it didn't exist, merely that I rarely heard about it. What you did here about daily was cock fighting Now granted, South Carolina is not rural Mississippi. But I was never aware of the dog fighting industry until I moved to Chicago, where it is deeply rooted in the gang culture here. Two years ago, August on a Saturday,I had my first up close and personal encounter with a bait dog. A bartender from the Top Hat called me to tell me about a man trying to give away a pitt bull puppy. She told me she wanted to take the dog, but something seemed terribly wrong and asked if I would come down and take a look at the animal. I pretended to be interested in taking the dog. Said gentleman, an african american man in his 50's, lead me to his truck. The pitt was in a crate in the back. The gentleman, will be referred to as man going forward, told me he had been with his cousin in Missisippi and had brought the dog back to Chicago. The dog was covered in motor oil, his nails were so long that his feet were splayed, his teeth were clearly not the teeth of a six month pup rather a six year old dog, his ears were rudely and roughly cropped and the dog had scars and sores. The crate was covered in motor oil and feces as was the pot containing water for the dog. I told the man that the dog needed immediate vet attention. He asked for a vet nearby and I directed him. He came back 20 minutes later saying the vet had given the dog a clean bill of health. Knowing that there was no way this man could have made the trip and had the dog examined in that space of time, I told the man I would take the dog. I wrapped the dog in towels and transported him to Broadway Animal Hospital for treatment. The dog would open his mouth, as if in extreme pain, every time he was lifted. Amazingly enough, the dog did not have any complications. Dr. Kaz innoculated the dog, cleaned him and treated his sores. Jerry/Sarge, a patron of the Top Hat who is in the military, took the dog in. The dog was named Grunt. The dog now lives in Wisconsin on a farm. As of the last report, he is very happy and healthy.