Published 12:00 am Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy to have their puppy Missy back are Andrea Banks, 8, holding the puppy, with brothers Jeremiah, 6, and Eriq, 12. The dog was stolen last Thursday, and found by the family on Monday after a tip from an acquaintance. The Panolian photo by Rita Howell

Authorities, told of dogfight, seize pit bulls

By Billy Davis

Panola sheriff’s deputies, responding to reports of dog fighting in progress, have charged four men with animal cruelty and seized two pit bulls.

The arrests were made Wednesday afternoon in the Curtis community, at two homes on Lamar Thomas Road.

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Deputies at the scene said the pit bulls had been separated when they arrived but bite marks were apparent on both animals. Neither dog showed aggression when deputies petted them.

Those arrested were Desmond Robinson, Randy Robinson, Terrance Ellis, and Keithdrick Taylor, said sheriff’s deputy Earl Burdette.

Anonymous witnesses described the four individuals as overseeing the dogfight, according to Burdette.

In the two yards, sheriff’s deputies found several malnourished-looking pit bulls, their ribs showing, tied to large chains.

One dog owner, Melanie Robinson, said seven pit bulls were tied or caged around the two homes. One of her dogs, named Trigger, was taken from the home.

“I read them the Riot Act and said I’d be back in two weeks to check on the condition of the dogs,” said sheriff’s deputy Bobby Billingsley.

“I do follow up,” he added.

Billingsley, who handles animal cases for the sheriff’s department, said the owners could face a separate count of animal neglect for each dog.

The four arrests this week mark the latest incident related to suspected dog fighting in Panola County. Numerous dog owners have come forward in recent days to report missing pets, most of them pit bulls.

The reports began February 15, when the owner of two pit bulls purchased a “missing dogs” ad for two pit bulls, a male and female.

The owner said the dogs were stolen from his workplace in Sardis despite attempts to hide them from thieves. 

After the ad published, the owner said an anonymous caller told him the dogs were staked out at Frontage Road in Sardis. Only the male was there and the owner is still searching for the female.

As that owner was finding one of his two dogs, three more ads for stolen or missing dogs were running in The Panolian. 

In a March 1 story, The Panolian reported that an eight-week-old pit bull puppy, “Missy,” had been stolen from the Banks family last Thursday. 

Jackie Banks said Missy was taken from her cage, on Cedarcrest Circle in west Batesville, when the owner left home for 30 minutes.

After that story published, the Banks family followed up on several phone calls, including a tip from a relative of the suspected thief.

 They found Missy Monday, in a cage at a home on nearby Armstrong Street. Two other pit bull puppies were also in the cage, the family said.

Other dog owners have reported missing or stolen dogs from the Good Hope and Eureka communities, and from Batesville. 

“It’s running rampant right now,” Burdette, the sheriff’s deputy, said of dog thefts. “They are snatching dogs off the street.”

He said most stolen dogs are used as “bait dogs” to train meaner pit bulls.

Authorities on Wednesday chose to pursue four charges of animal cruelty, instead of dogfighting charges, because a law enforcement officer did not witness the dogfight, Burdette explained.

“We charged them with animal cruelty because they allowed it to happen. We think that charge can stick,” added Billingsley.

An animal cruelty charge can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony in justice court, according to Burdette.

Any involvement in dogfighting, such as training fighting dogs, transporting them, conducting the fight, or betting at the fight, is a felony punishable by three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Being a spectator at a dogfight is also a felony punishable by a year in prison and a $500 fine.

Mississippi law also allows law enforcement to seize animals that are suspected of mistreatment, with the owner permitted to request a court hearing to seek the return of the animal.  

At the two homes on Lamar Thomas Road, dog owner Melanie Robinson was wiping away tears as deputies were confiscating Trigger, her pit bull. 

“It’s like taking away your child,” Roberts said of the injured dog, which she said turned two in November.

Asked by a reporter why Trigger was so skinny his ribs were showing, Roberts said she had forgotten to feed it but had bought dog food Sunday, four days earlier.

Asked if she knew who is fighting dogs, Roberts answered, “Nobody but Michael Vick.”