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      Deputies taking the bite out of dog fighting

      Columbia, SC (WACH) -- In light of recent cases regarding dog fighting, local law enforcement are doing what they can to help man's best friend.

      According the the United States Humane Society, the Palmetto State is ranked 48th in the country when it comes to animal cruelty.

      Dog fighting has become a growing problem that touches most people emotionally. Unfortunately, it is a hard case to go after.

      In January, 12 pit bulls were rescued from a suspected dog fighting ring in Camden. Three have since been put to sleep.

      According to Walter Crowe Animal Shelter Director Sharon Jones, the others still have a long way to go.

      "We're doing the best we can with what we've got," Jones said. "They've done well. They are happy, they have calmed down. But this is not a rehab center so they could be doing better if we can get them in other places. They still have some trust issues."

      Kershaw County Deputies arrested Burton Mincey, 42, and charged him with 20 counts of ill treatment of animals. Deputies found weapons, drugs, and steroid injections for the animals.

      Richland County Animal Investigator Holly Wagner said they do not have a dog fighting task force; even though the crime is widespread.

      "It is a lot more reactive then it would be proactive," Wagner said. "It is so hard to get the probable cause you need to make a case. If a person has 10-15 pit bulls in their backyard, that is a real good indication that they are fighting dogs. But it is not probable cause to get a search warrant."

      Wagner says a 2011 incident in Richland County helped save the lives of two young pit bulls who now work for the department. Deputies arrested James Green, 51, in that case. Green pled guilty last January to dog fighting. He will spend a year in state prison. Deputies say he cut the ears off his dogs so they would not bite them off during fights.

      According to Wagner, dog fighting cases usually uncover more crimes against owners.

      "Where you have dog fighting, you have criminal activity," Wagner said. "It is a criminal enterprise. In the Green case, there were guns and cocaine. It does not stop there."

      Wagner said the department gets help from other agencies, including the Midlands Humane Society. Executive Director Wayne Brennessel said they have one investigator that covers several counties; and helped law enforcement in both cases.

      "We just may work on the front end of it because people feel comfortable telling us about situations we can investigate," Brennessel said. "Our investigator went out, walked the property with deputies, and pointed out some things that were of concern like the condition and paraphernalia on the property."

      But with only a few resources, officials say it all starts with getting tips from the public.

      "In the past, they might have just thought that person has a lot of pit bulls, I wonder why?" Wagner said. "Now, most people realize if you have 10-15 pit bulls on log chains in backyards, that is an indication they are fighting."

      Officials remind the public to keep a watchful eye on any suspicious activity involving animals; and if they see anything out of the ordinary, to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Callers can choose to remain anonymous.

      "They did not ask to be put in this world and treated like they were for the first couple years of their life," Jones said. "They stand a chance. As far as I am concerned, any dog that comes here, stands a chance."

      A chance they hope will save the lives of man's best friend.