The ASPCA's Tim Rickey on Dog Fights, His New Unit -- and Finch Fighting?

Tim Rickey's job is to stop animal fighting. - KEEGAN HAMILTION
Keegan Hamiltion
Tim Rickey's job is to stop animal fighting.
In December, the ASPCA, or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, hired former Missouri State Highway Patrolman Terry Mills for a new position as Animal Fighting Specialist.

As RFT staff writer Keegan Hamilton detailed in his September feature, "Dog Beat Dog," Mills was a key investigator in the largest dog-fighting bust in the nation's history. The ASPCA hopes to use Mills to help train law enforcement across the nation for similar investigative work.

Daily RFT recently caught up with Mills' new boss, Tim Rickey. The ASPCA's senior director of field investigations and response, Rickey is also a Missouri guy. (He currently lives in Franklin County, though he admits, "I spend very little time at home.")

Rickey talked to us about the new unit he's building to tackle animal fighting, the unusual animals now being used in fights and what you can do to help. The highlights of his remarks are after the jump.

On Terry Mills' hire:
TIM RICKEY: My vision when I joined the ASPCA [in January 2010] was to create a national blood sports program. That's an issue I've cared about for many, many years. With the Missouri dogfighting case, it became clear that it was a very prevalent problem not only in Missouri, but nationwide.

Animal fighting has always been a big focus of my career. It's the most heinous form of animal cruelty that exists. If people actually understood how often animals are pitted against each other and forced to fight, it would make them sick.

We wanted to make sure we brought an animal fighting expert on board, and Terry certainly fits that bill. He has a 30-year law enforcement career, and he understands the ways of animal fighting rings -- he's the perfect person to go in and work with law enforcement and help them build these cases.

On why we don't see more animal fighting busts like the one in 2009:
It is so difficult to infiltrate. And beyond that, local law enforcement doesn't always have the understanding. They can see the signs every day and never look into it because they don't have the training.

So we decided, number one, let's give them the training. Let's help them understand that this is another form of animal abuse. Two, let's be a partner to them. Even if they pursue the cases, they don't always have the resources. We can go in and work with law enforcement, as experts in the field. They have the law-enforcement abilities; we have the resources to help them.

On the ubiquity of animal fighting:
We've assisted on fifteen animal fighting cases this year. We had one case in Florida that ended up leading to four cases in a ten-day period. That illustrates how severe this problem is -- we were requested to come in with one case, and we did that. Several days later, we got a call about a dog fight in process. And three days later, we got called in because guys were fighting dogs in broad daylight. From there, we started getting more leads. People realized there was a resource to come in and take care of it. That's not something people are aware of, so that's part of our job, too -- letting people know that there is a resource.

On the type of animals involved in these rings:
Pit bulls are certainly the most common. But cockfighting is also well-established. In August we worked the largest cockfighting case in Florida history -- 700 roosters on two different properties. We've also seen finches, mostly in the northeast. That illustrates that people will go to any lengths -- if it's not safe to fight roosters or dogs, they may go to other animals.

On what to do if you expect someone in your community is involved with animal fighting:
Contact local law enforcement. Law enforcement has to be the agency that initiates a case. But after that, they can contact the ASPCA. If they made the call [to the local police] and there hasn't been any result, that will allow us to reach out and offer our assistance. That may be what stalled them from taking action. Or it may be that they are working the case and just aren't ready to make arrests yet.

On whether education could solve this problem:
There's always an educational aspect -- in the animal welfare field in general, we strive to educate animal owners and convince them to take better care of their animals. Someone who doesn't feed their animal enough or provide medical care, sometimes they don't understand. But that's not the same [as animal fighters]. To hear a dog scream and cry and fight for his life -- you absolutely know what pain that animal is in. They're doing it for the blood sport aspect -- the sheer brutality.

So it's not that we need to educate them that it's wrong. We more need to educate them that there are laws against it -- and that there are law enforcement professionals willing to pursue it. That, maybe, will convince them not to do it.

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