By William Browning
OAKLAND – With citizens telling Mayor Riley Swearengen and his board of aldermen that dogs are being reared in the small town of Oakland (pop. 586) for the sole purpose of dog-fighting, city leaders there are looking into ways to confront the problem.
The dogs in question are pit bulls and the Oakland board is now considering adopting an ordinance – similar to one on the books in Grenada – that would require citizens owning pit bulls to have liability insurance. (The city of Grenada requires $50,000 worth.)
“Hopefully something like this would help curb the dog-fighting atmosphere here,” Swearengen said of the possible ordinance, adding that drugs and gang activity appear to go hand-in-hand with professional dog-fighting.
Mississippi, where dog-fighting is a felony offense, is in the grips of an epidemic, said Debra Boswell, director of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League.
“As far as I’m concerned, dog-fighting is an epidemic in Mississippi,” Boswell told the Clarion Ledger. “It goes on in every community, every county, every city.”
Yalobusha County seems no exception.
While the MARL euthanized over 300 pit bulls – a dog-fighter’s apparent dog-of-choice – last year, that breed has a bit of a spoiled reputation in Yalobusha County of late.
Rumors of dog-fighting in Yalobusha County have long circulated. And those rumors have slowly been crystallizing with current and disheartening pit bull occurences in the area.
Almost two months ago a pit bull was shot to death on Wise Street by the Water Valley Police Department after the animal showed signs of aggression toward an officer. (“That was the wrong thing to do,” said Lieutenant Rick McCuan of the dog’s hostility.)
Shortly before that occurence, a picture – snapped at Dead Dog Creek just outside of Water Valley on County Road 105 – surfaced depicting a scarred and bloated pit bull carcass that had been discarded at the site. The picture shows the dog’s neck covered in blood.
And recently, a citizen on North Central Street placed no fewer than two complaints with the police department in regards to a neighbor’s pit bulls. (The neighbors have since moved, leaving two pit bulls chained to trees in the backyard, left to be retrieved by county officials.)
With the nation’s eyes turned toward professional football player Michael Vick and his recent indictment – along with three other men – on charges of executing dogs that did not perform well in fights, CNN has reported that an estimated 40,000 Americans are involved in professional dog-fighting, an illegal blood sport with fight purses sometimes reaching $100,000.
Yalobusha County Sheriff Lance Humphreys says that he believes dog-fighting “doesn’t go on on a regular basis” in Yalobusha County. But, he added, it does emerge from time to time.
“We get a lot of complaints from inside the Oakland city limits about pit bulls,” Humphreys said.
Two years ago, the sheriff’s department, through an informant’s tip, caught wind of a dog fight scheduled to occur in the county.
“We had over 100 law enforcement officials there, staging near Enid Lake, ready to move,” said Humphreys. (The group was made up of neighboring counties’ officers, with state and federal officials in tow.)
However, no arrests were made at that time, as the information did not pan out.
“The problem is, with these big dog fights, they don’t divulge a definite sight until just a couple of hours before the fight is scheduled to take place,” said Humphreys.
“But dog-fighting is a big operation,” Humphreys added. “They are betting thousands of dollars on these fights.”
Anyone with information concerning illegal dog-fighting activities is urged to contact the Yalobusha County Crime Stoppers at 662-473-4935 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.