| (Editor’s note: this story is the third in a series).
By Billy Davis
If you’ve never heard of "in-line breeding" or seen a pit bull snarling at the "scratch line," then it’s unlikely you know very much about dog fighting.
And consider yourself lucky.
A pit bull terrier is the exclusive dog of backyard dog fights, but not all pit bulls are bred to fight, said Jeff Johnson*, a Batesville resident who described dog fighting to The Panolian for this story.
"A good fighting dog is small, fast and short," said Johnson, who claimed he has attended only one fight, a backyard brawl in the Curtis community.
Dog fights have been held east of Como and even within the city limits of Crenshaw, Johnson said, but the "big-time" fights that place $10,000 or more on dogs take place elsewhere.
"Those are held around Tunica and in Memphis," Johnson said. "I’ve never heard of a big-time fight in Panola County."
Whether those dog fights are big or small, in Mississippi it’s illegal and a felony to sponsor a dog fight, bet on the fight, and train or transport a dog to a fight. The minimum sentence is one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The maximum sentence is three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Just attending a dog fight in Mississippi can result in a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Panola County is indeed home to dog fights, and most fights have moved away from rural neighborhoods into secluded wooded areas, said Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin.
"Most of them occur in north Panola County, and most are attended by young black males," Griffin said.
Although the fights are often held in rural communities, Panola Sheriff’s Deputy Earl Burdette said he witnessed a dog fight in Batesville last summer near Person Street in Batesville.
Burdette, who owns a lawn service, said he was mowing grass near the Colonial Bread warehouse when he spotted a crowd of 15 to 20 people surrounding a makeshift pen. He contacted police, and several people were arrested and three dogs were seized.
Griffin acknowledged that the sheriff’s department has not broken up many dog fights in recent years but noted also that the department has solved several dog thefts related to the illegal sport.
According to Johnson, a dog fight follows several rules. The handlers cannot touch the dogs during the fight, he said, but the dogs can be separated if one dog is "getting the best" of the other and is obviously winning.
Still another rule involves a dog that turns from a fight. Often the dogs are brought back to the "scratch line," which is the starting line, and allowed to charge for another round of fighting. A dog is declared the loser in the fight if it hesitates or cowers in fear.
Both Johnson and Griffin said the losing dog’s handler will often shoot the animal – sometimes during the fight – if it turns away from another dog.
A pit bull that wins three fights is known as a "grand champion," Johnson said.
Johnson said he personally raises pit bulls and believes their reputation as fighting dogs has hurt their image.
"A pit bull is aggressive by instinct, but it’s not vicious. It’s just a loyal guard dog," Johnson said.
In fact, most large and muscular pit bulls are never involved in a fight and instead are bred and raised as trophy dogs, Johnson said.
The fighting pit bulls, which Johnson said are smaller, are raised through the inbreeding of siblings, or "in-line breeding," resulting in a "crazy dog" that is indeed vicious.
"That crazy dog will go until it can’t breathe any more," Johnson said. "It won’t hurt a human, but it hates other dogs."
According to Griffin, he wants to raise awareness of dog fighting and hopes the public will be vigilant about watching and listening for them.
"Listen for the noise," Griffin said. "You’ll know it if you hear it."
"What we need is good intel on locating them," said Burdette. "Good intel is the key."
*Jeff Johnson is an alias for a person who wished to remain anonymous.