Federal authorities are seeking the forfeiture of 19 of 41 pit bulls seized in Charles City and Sussex counties from unidentified suspects in an interstate dogfighting network.
Court records show that the dogs were recovered by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies carrying out federal search warrants on Nov. 19 at a residence on Sandy Hill Road in Sussex County and at another address on Courthouse Road in Charles City County.
The seizures were made, according to a complaint for forfeiture filed Monday, “as part of an investigation into narcotics trafficking and illegal dogfighting in Virginia and elsewhere.”
A civil forfeiture warrant for the dogs was entered in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Tuesday. Authorities said the seizures were unrelated to an ongoing dogfighting conspiracy case against a King George County man and three out-of-state suspects, but declined to comment further.
The dogs are in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and are being cared for by a contractor. According to the forfeiture complaint, many of the dogs were scarred, had fresh wounds and otherwise were in poor health, suffering from broken teeth, worms and other issues.
Many were chained to trees or heavy ground anchors.
Eight of the 19 dogs ordered forfeited are male and 11 female. Four were taken from the Sussex address and 15 from Charles City.
An additional 22 dogs were found at the Sussex location and surrendered by an unidentified person who said they were owned by other people he or she would not identify.
Dogfighting typically involves “pit bull-type” dogs bred and conditioned for fighting that are released by their owners to fight until one of the animals is withdrawn or until one of both dogs die, said the government. The purpose of the fighting is for entertainment and/or gambling.
Alleged dogfighting paraphernalia was also seized along with the dogs, including treadmills, training sticks, scales, veterinary supplies, an animal hide, syringes, a weighted vest, harness and collar.
In perhaps the highest-profile dogfighting case in Virginia history, 53 dogs were seized at the so-called Bad Newz Kennels on property owned by former NFL quarterback Michael Vick in Surry County in 2007.
Six of those dogs either died or were euthanized but 47 found new, if not permanent, homes. Vick, a former Virginia Tech football star, was sentenced to 23 months after his dogfighting conspiracy conviction in federal court in Richmond.
After his release from prison Vick resumed his professional football career, retiring in 2017.