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The dog runs for up to an hour at a time — sometimes several times a day — on a treadmill. Its jaws are strengthened with “springpoles,” hung from trees with a lure attached. The dog clamps its jaws on the lure and whips its head back and forth, perfecting the “bite and shake” technique.

Organized dogfighters say they treat their animals well and breed champions with champions. It’s unfair, they say, that dogfighting is illegal while activities in which humans kill animals — fishing and hunting — are condoned.

On Internet sites, they have answers for those who call dogfighting cruel:

• Injured dogs quickly receive medical care. A champion can be worth $10,000, and it would be foolish to withhold treatment. (But animal welfare officials say wounded dogs typically receive shoddy medical care from owners who are not veterinarians.)

• A fight is halted when one dog stops attacking, thus minimizing injuries. (Humane Society officials respond that fights inflict terrible pain on dogs, no matter what fight rules are followed.)

• Pit bulls were bred to fight, just as retrievers were bred to fetch. The animals enjoy fighting; look at their tails wag. (Animal welfare officials say the animals appear to enjoy fighting only because breeding programs heighten aggressiveness.)

In the eyes of officials of the Humane Society of the United States, any form of dogfighting is a vicious blood sport.

Investigators are going after the clandestine sport, and they staged several raids in 2003.

Among them:

• In Petaluma, Calif., a man was arrested after police searched his property and found 15 pit bulls and a bloody treadmill.

• In Orangeburg, S.C., 70 pit bulls were confiscated from a fighting ring.

cNear Erie, Pa., authorities made 11 dogfighting arrests and seized 32 pit bulls.

Pittsburgh’s District Attorney’s Office had its first dogfighting case five years ago, and has prosecuted 24 persons for dogfighting since then.

On Internet message boards, anonymous postings warn dogfighters that the Pittsburgh area should be considered off-limits because the risk of raids and arrests is too great.

A bill pending in Congress would make it a felony to transport fighting dogs across state lines. The Humane Society considers the bill an important effort to disrupt what is considered a nationwide dogfighting circuit.

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