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Veterinarians enlisted to help stop dog fighting

Friday - 10/5/2012, 2:24pm  ET

Popeye.JPG
Popeye, a 13-year-old pit bull, was rescued from suspected dog fighting. The Animal Rescue League of Alexandria is working to educate the public about the dangers of dog fighting and how to spot it in your neighborhood. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WASHINGTON - Patrick Cole cradles the scarred head of Popeye, a 13-year-old coal black pit bull who was seized as part of a suspected dog-fighting ring.

"This is the face of animal cruelty," says Cole, director of communications and outreach for the Animal Rescue League of Alexandria.

Cole describes the injuries the dog has sustained over the years. From nose to tail, it's like a roadmap of pain.

"You can see the scars on his face. He's got a big scar on his leg here as well," Cole says, pointing to a 3-to 4-inch long scar that mars the dog's black coat.

Animal Control Officer Joy Wilson holds the animal's muzzle, and Popeye allows his mouth to be opened. Cole continues his narration: "If you can see inside his mouth, he's missing part of his tongue."

Yet Popeye is willing to be handled, and when he looks up at the animal welfare workers, his grin splits his broad face. There's not a trace of aggression there.

Popeye's case is still under investigation. He was taken from a Fairfax County home during a raid in September. Nine dogs were removed from the home of Eduardo Valdez, who was charged with being an unfit owner and surrendered the dogs to authorities.

More charges may be coming as the investigation into suspected dog fighting is still underway. But the Animal Rescue League believes the dog was used in fighting, and Cole and Wilson are taking the opportunity to educate the public about the consequences.

Dog fighting is not just an urban underground phenomenon. It occurs in the suburbs, and the dogs used in fighting tend to get a lot of veterinarian care, Cole says.

"These dogs are worth a lot of money to the fighters; they invest a lot of money in them," he explains.

Cole says that's why the League is asking veterinarians to notify the non-proft when they see signs of dog fighting. He points to Popeye as an example.

"Something is obviously not right with a dog that has that many scars and looks the way he does," he says.

Some signs veterinarians should pay attention to include if a dog returns multiple times with similar injuries or if the owner returns with multiple dogs with similar injuries.

What is the future for dogs like Popeye?

For now, Cole says Popeye has got the run of the office where he is clearly a favorite among the staff. And despite his age and past, he can look forward to settling in to a cushy new life.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate Ryan and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)