GASTONIA, N.C. — Horrifying new details have surfaced about a dogfighting ring that was broken up in Gaston County earlier this month.
49-year-old Rico Pagan is facing over a dozen felony charges, including animal cruelty and dogfighting after several malnourished dogs were rescued from his home on June 2.
Channel 9 learned Pagan was previously convicted of animal cruelty charges in 2008.
According to police, members of the Gastonia Police Department and Gaston County Animal Care & Enforcement have been investigating reports of dogfighting at Pagan’s home on Queens Road for months. The investigation was reportedly started after community members expressed concerns to animal control.
Police said at around 7:15 a.m., officers served a search and seizure warrant at the property where seven dogs were found. The animals were covered in fleas and scars, consistent with injuries typically seen in dogfighting cases, according to the Humane Society of the United States which also assisted in the rescue.
One dog was limping from a wound from what’s believed to be a recent dog fight.
“They don’t want to do that,” pet owner Quincy Goode said. “It’s just what they were forced to do.”
“It’s almost as though they knew they were being rescued”— Ken (@kenlemonWSOC9) June 2, 2021
9 dogs were rescued from an alleged dog fighting operation on Queens Road near Gastonia. County Police say tell us it’s the first time they have nabbed an operation still in place. They arrested 1 man & hope to make more. pic.twitter.com/NAuBfSDxwj
The HSUS said the dogs were found living outside on heavy, weighted chains and did not have access to adequate shelter: only blue barrels and dilapidated wooden shacks. Despite the poor conditions the dogs were found suffering in, rescuers noted that the dogs wagged their tails and were eager for attention.
“Seeing the relief on those dogs faces as if they know they are being rescued,” Janette Reever with Humane Society International said.
Reever is one of the leading experts on dogfighting in the world. She is part of a team from the national Humane Society that came in from DC.
“It’s cruelty. It’s continual suffering. It’s an overburden,” she said.
According to Reever, many of the dogs suffered from fly strikes, which is when gnats and flies eat away at the animal’s ears.
“It is gut-wrenching to imagine the violence and pain these dogs have been forced to endure,” said Gail Thomssen, North Carolina director for the Humane Society of the United States. “We are thankful to the Gaston County Police Department for answering the call to get these dogs desperately needed help. Thanks to everyone involved, today is the last day that these dogs will have to live like this.”
The Humane Society is transporting the rescued animals to an undisclosed location where they will continue to receive veterinary exams and evaluations.
>> PHOTOS: Chained, scarred dogs rescued from alleged dogfighting ring in Gastonia
This isn’t the first time animal services visited the lot. Channel 9 learned authorities seized two dogs in poor condition last week and when they came back for the rest of the dogs on Wednesday, three of the dogs were missing.
It’s unclear what happened to those animals.
According to warrants, police found two dogs in a trash bag too badly decomposed to tell if they died from fighting. They also found cowhide and meat on a rope hanging from trees, which police said is used to strengthen the dogs’ bite muscles.
They also reportedly found medicine vials and syringes, which Pagan said were used to treat the dogs’ ears.
According to authorities, they found a bounty of evidence that indicates Pagan was promoting and participating in dogfighting at his home.
They listed 46 items taken, including weighted collars, a dog collar on a plaque like trophy, a metal pulling sled to build muscles and wound care spray along with several other items used to treat injuries.
An informant said Pagan was giving out a $70,000 prize during the main event of one fight.
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Officials said he was taken into custody during the search and charged with three felonious counts of dogfighting. Investigators said the charges are for the training, promotion, and participation in dogfighting. Pagan has also been charged with 12 felonious counts of animal cruelty. He is being held at the Gaston County Jail on a $125,000 bond awaiting his first appearance in court, according to police.
“The dedicated officers of the Gaston County Police Department and Animal Care & Enforcement have taken this allegation of dogfighting very seriously,” said Captain Billy Downey of the Gaston County Police Department. “Members of various units within the Gaston County Police have worked together to thoroughly investigate this situation and arrest the organizer of this alleged dogfighting ring. This is an active and on-going investigation we will continue to pursue.”
Pagan had his first court appearance on June 3. He is also facing drug charges for marijuana plants that were found growing at the home.
The Gaston County Police encourages anyone with information about this incident to contact Detective J. P. Brienza at 704-866-3320 or Crimestoppers at 704-861-8000. Information leading to the identification, arrest and/or prosecution of additional suspect(s) involved in this incident can result in up to a $1,000 reward.
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