As flyers posted around Bluffton for a fundraiser benefiting a rescued "bait dog" attest, local animal advocates haven't forgotten the warning sign that dog fighting could be happening nearby.
They plan to fight back.
Law enforcement officers and residents are working to educate the community that tarps covering fighting pits, tires suspended from trees to strengthen jaws and caged cats or rabbits in the backyard for dogs could be tell-tale signs of dog-fighting.
Bluffton resident Leigh West, who is helping lead an awareness campaign, said she set up a booth for the cause at the Bluffton Historic Arts and Seafood Festival in October, urging visitors to notify police if they see treadmills in backyards, sharpened sticks, antibiotics or soap and buckets in addition to injured animals.
She decided to get involved when a white pit bull whose teeth had been pulled or filed and who suffered more than 20 wounds was found near Nickelpumpers on S.C. 46. Named Malachi by his rescuers and scheduled for medical and behavioral treatment, the pit bull was likely used as a "bait dog" to train other fighters.
"Malachi was found right in our backyard," West said. "But when I've talked to people in the weeks since he was discovered, they just don't know it exists."
West's letter-writing campaign has brought Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, on board. He said he will brainstorm with Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister this week.
"We'll talk about anything we can do, from strengthening legislation to assisting in local campaigns," Herbkersman said.
McAllister said he will be teaming up with the Palmetto Animal League to train his officers on what to look for. He also plans a brochure for the public.
"The laws are in place when it comes to cruelty to animals," McAllister said. "But recognition of these types of facilities, that's not as prevalent. We need eyes and ears to be out there."
Holly Zusack, co-owner of Bluffton pit bull rescue center Three Black Dogs, said she gets more volunteers interested in joining the campaign every week. She hopes the fundraiser and silent auction at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at Montana's Grizzly Bar in Bluffton will become a yearly event to benefit dogs like Malachi.
"We know dog fighting is happening because we see the results in so many damaged dogs," she said.
McAllister said he has not investigated alleged dog fighting during his years with the Bluffton Police Department. According to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, animal control officers have not seen evidence of organized dog fights since 2007, when James D. Ling of greater Bluffton was charged with four counts of felony animal cruelty after investigators found three dead pit bulls and 12 injured and emaciated dogs at his home.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.