- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

BALTIMORE (AP) - After the raid of a violent, multistate dog-fighting ring, 22 people face charges and hundreds of dogs are in shelters, authorities said Monday.

A Baltimore grand jury returned indictments against 22 people involved in the ring, 14 of whom were in custody. They all face charges of animal cruelty, dog fighting and conspiracy.

The indictments came last week after a yearlong investigation. Authorities raided 18 locations in the Baltimore area and a compound in West Virginia. The ring also had links in New York and in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where several alleged members were linked to a dog-fighting bust in April 2013.

In all, authorities recovered 225 dogs, including 50 puppies, and at least 20 weapons. At least one dog died after a fight, officials said.

Also seized were breaking sticks, heavy chains, conditioning harnesses, steroids, surgical equipment, weighted collars and breeding stands, which prosecutors say dog-fighters refer to as “rape stands.”

The fate of all the dogs once they were taken to shelters wasn’t immediately clear Monday.

Eric Kowalczyk, a spokesman for Baltimore police said, “Each and every dog is assessed individually by a professional and they take every effort to rehabilitate them and place them up for adoption.”

He said that he couldn’t immediately say whether any of the 225 dogs had to be euthanized but that the department is “focusing on the fact that a lot of the dogs we were able to rescue are able to be rehabilitated.”

In announcing the indictments, authorities emphasized the violence involved in dog-fighting and said eight of those indicted have previous violent-crime convictions, including murder and sex offenses.

“To make these dogs more lethal, dogfighters deployed disturbing methods, sometimes forcing their dogs to wear weighted collars in scorching weather and cutting off their ears so opponents have less flesh to seize on with their teeth,” said Thiru Vignarajah, chief of the major investigations unit at the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

“These indictments bring into the light a form of brutality that for too long has unfolded in the forgotten basements and backyards of Baltimore and beyond,” Vignarajah said.

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