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Posted: 1/27/2009 1:58:31 AM EST

Harris County district attorney tackles dogfighting
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Jan. 26, 2009, 11:55PM

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has beefed up animal cruelty enforcement in her office, announcing Monday the creation of a unit that will target dogfighters and those who treat pets inhumanely.

She appointed Assistant District Attorney Belinda Smith as the animal cruelty section’s chief. Another prosecutor will assist her, along with an investigator who will help build cases for them.

The unit began its work Monday when Lykos and Smith announced that it would try to learn the identities of dogfight owners who have been dumping carcasses – losers in the matches on which spectators often bet – in a wooded area in northeast Houston.

Earlier this month, Smith and others from the animal cruelty section found about six carcasses in bags in woods west of the Eastex Freeway behind a Sak N Save, Lykos said. Pet owners have also been known to abandon unwanted dogs there.

“They dump injured dogs and dead dogs,” Lykos said. “This will no longer be a cemetery for dead dogs.”

Under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal regime only one prosecutor – Smith – was assigned to animal cases.

Increasing staff personnel and creating the new unit shows that Lykos is “committed to prosecuting these cases,” Smith said.
Case difficult to build

Dogfighting and gambling on fights, she said, has been increasing in recent years. In November, she headed an investigation which led to the indictments of more than 60 people accused of taking part in a sophisticated, lucrative dogfighting ring.

These cases can be difficult to build because dogfighting is a secretive subculture. Known hot spots for dogfighing in Houston include Channelview, the Acres Homes area and the Cuney Homes area, authorities said.

Crime Stoppers of Houston announced that it would try to help the district attorney’s office build cases.

“Those in dogfighting are scary people,” said Crime Stoppers director Katherine Cabaniss. “People are afraid of retaliation in their neighborhoods. They are fearful of these dogs.”

Authorities will rely on camera surveillance and increased patrols by the city’s animal control officers to curb dumping in the woods near the Eastex Freeway, Smith said. Animal control officers will round up abandoned dogs.
Development plans

The dumping ground is a 150-acre tract west of the Eastex Freeway, bordered in some areas by Halls Bayou and Langley Road.

The Harris County Flood Control District bought and razed homes in the tract after they were swamped during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The district intends to build a retention pond on the land to help curb flooding.

It removed most streets in the tract, added ditches in places and put up a gate at the one remaining street in part to curb illegal dumping, said flood control district spokeswoman Heather Saucier.

Completion of the retention ditch is still years away – the district hasn’t appropriated money for its design.

Law-abiding residents stay out of the tract because they hear gunfire and fear those that they see going in, said Kevin Phillips, manager of Interstate Collision and Service Center on Langley.

“I’ve heard them back there in the day, I’ve heard them at night,” Phillips said. “I’ve gone back there (in the day) and found animals in trash bags. I think it’s horrible, the dumping they have going on – the trash and the animals.”

Smith said she and other officials found about six dead dogs when they walked the property earlier this month.
Jurisdiction dispute

The tract hasn’t been well-policed because of a jurisdictional dispute between the city and the county, Smith acknowledged. The city controls land south of Langley Road. North of Langley is unincorporated Harris County, and the county is responsible for patrolling it and rounding up wandering animals.

When a dog would cross from the south side of Langley to the north, city officers would feel that they no longer could pick it up, Smith said.

“Their attitude was it’s ‘you’re problem, not my problem,’ ”she said.

As part of its campaign, Crime Stoppers will putting up 30 billboards advising people that they can provide anonymous tips about dogfighting.
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