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The other victims
The illegal sport of dog fighting has yet another dark side - one that a Mississippi veterinarian knows all too well.
The illegal sport of dog fighting has yet another dark side — one that a Mississippi veterinarian knows all too well.
Doctor and patient: The Michael Vick case brought international attention to the illegal sport of dog fighting. Don't be surprised if cases wind up in your waiting rooms. It happened to Dr. William C. McDevitt of Gautier, Miss., shown with his patient, Jasmin. (Photo: Sean Smith)
It's an aspect that received scant attention when the recent Michael Vick case exposed the underground activity and its rapid growth nationwide.
Vick, star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty to financing a dog-fighting operation and awaits sentencing on Dec. 10, when he could receive up to five years in prison but is expected to get 12 to 18 months under federal guidelines. The National Football League has him on indefinite suspension without pay.
William C. McDevitt, DVM, of Gautier, Miss., knows firsthand that fighting dogs aren't the only animals abused in activities like those that allegedly took place on Vick's property in Virginia.
Other dogs — including pets stolen from their owners' property or acquired from shelters — often suffer a worse fate when fighters use them as "bait" or sparring partners for "training" sessions.
That's reportedly what happened to one of McDevitt's patients, a 20-month-old black Chow mix named Jasmin.
The dog's owner, Christopher Seiler, rushed the animal to the Gautier Animal Clinic on July 9 after the dog, bleeding from puncture wounds to its face, chest and legs and barely able to walk, limped into the backyard and collapsed. Seiler had noticed his dog missing that morning and searched the neighborhood for about two hours before it returned.
A neighbor told Seiler a teen-aged boy she could identify led the dog away from Seiler's yard the night before, with a rope tied around its neck.
"My client was beside himself, very upset and very angry," McDevitt recalls. "The dog was covered with bite wounds and had an internal dorsal dislocation of its right hip. It appeared someone had kicked her or perhaps struck her with a blunt object. She obviously was in a fight, and in my opinion she was winning the fight and that's probably why she was kicked. She weighs around 35 pounds and she's very strong. That's why she survived."
After consulting with his client, McDevitt performed a femur head ostectomy on July 12. "It's less costly than an artificial hip and with some good therapy the muscle eventually takes over some of the bone function and the dog can get back 80 percent to 85 percent of normal use," McDevitt explains.
He removed the sutures July 23 and says the dog is "doing great now, gaining more use of her leg every day. And she's all caught up on her vaccinations."
Seiler's dog has settled back into her normal home routine of "running with the cat" and the injured leg seems almost normal, he says.
Police have not contacted him further, but he would like to see the teenager serve some jail time and his parents ordered to cover all the dog's expenses.
McDevitt speculates police investigated but weren't able to gather enough hard evidence for an arrest.
McDevitt and Seiler appeared on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" on Aug. 14 to tell Jasmin's story during a segment about dog fighting.
That and some local publicity resulted in several donations. "People from all across coastal Mississippi really came through. They paid for the entire cost of the repair (about $2,000)," McDevitt says. "The rest was used to start the Jasmin Fund, which will help pay for care for any dog abused in this way, as long as a police report is filed and there's a signed complaint. The fund has about $800 in it right now."
The fact that dog fighters sometimes steal pets — both cats and dogs — from residential property for use in training rings, where many die or are killed afterward, didn't immediately come to light during coverage of the Vick case.
But it didn't surprise McDevitt, who says he's long known that such abuse takes place. "Someone else reported a dog stolen in this area only a week after the Jasmin incident," he says.
McDevitt treated several animals he suspects have been injured in fights. "Scars from old injuries are pretty obvious," he says.
McDevitt, a 1971 DVM graduate of Auburn University who has practiced in Gautier since 1975, doesn't mince words about his opinion of dog fighters, saying he can sympathize with a young woman in his area whose father was "a known fighter. After she went to veterinary school, she told him she'd turn him in if he didn't give it up. I know how she feels."
He disputes the claim by some that dog fighting seems more prevalent in the Southeast. "It's pretty clear now that it's happening everywhere, in all parts of the country," he says. "And it's not just the backwoods types, the less educated. It includes some who are very high in the social strata, who don't need the money.
"Your magazine can't print the words I would use to describe these people," McDevitt says.