Pet dogs in middle Tennessee have been disappearing, but a recent raid on a dog fighting ring in Humpreys County led to the rescue of several animals, revealing a possible connection.
Sixteen dogs were saved during a raid by Humphreys County Sheriff's Deputies and the Animal Rescue Corp.
The suspected dog fighting owner managed to disappear before they arrived with at least 80 other animals. The ones left behind were chained up.
"You can see on all the dogs wearing and chaffing on their neck ... from the big heavy locking chain," said Scotlund Haisley with ARC.
The dogs were suffering. As a veterinarian removed an thick leather collar from a pit bull, it revealed a larg ulcer on the dog's neck.
Removing the collar brought instant relief, even joy to the poor animal.
"How does that feel? Does that feel so much better," asked the veterinarian as the dog jumped and started licking her.
The question remained - where did the dogs come from?
As NewsChannel 5 recently reported, there's been a spike in canine thefts across the state.
"I've probably gotten 30 e-mails at least of people reaching out if their dog was on this property. It seems to be an epidemic," said Michael Cunningham with ARC.
Experts said most stolen dogs are taken to be resold or to bred, but a percentage do go to fight or to be used as bait dogs to train fighters in the blood sport.
ARC's Haisley said it's a horrible fate -- restrained by a heavy collar "... until they are pulled off that chain, thrown in the ring to fight another dog. If they win they end up back on the chain. If they lose. They die."
The priority for law enforcement has become tracking down those responsible for the fighting ring in Humphreys county -- inflitrate the network and to rescue more dogs.
Those with lost or stolen pets can review photos of the rescued dogs on the Animal Rescue Corp. website. If you suspect dog fighting in your neighborhood, please contact the police. Dog fighting is a felony.