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10 June 2011 Issue

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Hidden in Darkness: ‘Trunking’ is Dog Fighting’s Ugly Secret


By Joey Wahler


Hidden in Darkness: ‘Trunking’ is Dog Fighting’s Ugly Secret

The crack down on dog fighting is stirring a new form of cruelty called “trunking.” (Pet Pulse Photo by Zhenia Koval , Design by Mike Lloyd)

NEW YORK -- One of the most barbaric forms of animal cruelty has an underbelly which for years has remained literally hidden in darkness: “Trunking” is dog fighting’s ugly secret.

“It’s just that taboo,” Tio Hardiman, a Chicago-based, dog fighting consultant to the Humane Society of the United States.

Capt. Steve Shatkin of the New Jersey SPCA described trunking to Pet Pulse at the state’s headquarters in New Brunswick.

“Two dogs will be thrown, literally, into the trunk of a car like this,” Shatkin said, pointing to a mid-sized car in NJSPCA’s parking lot. “(The) trunk is closed, and the operators either drive around for a set period of time, or just leave them in there with the trunk closed."

“And after a certain time, open the trunk, and the best man left is standing. And it’s a bloody mess in there, and that’s how they declare a winner.”

The carcass of the defeated dog is typically tossed to the side of the road, says Hardiman, who also is a pit bull advocate.

“Once in a while I’ve seen it, OK?” Hardiman said. “I know some guys may have put some dogs in a trunk. They fought, and then the next thing you know they turned the music up real loud -- for about 15 minutes, maybe 30 minutes.

“And then you open up the trunk, one of the dogs might be dead, the other one might be mangled up.”

Across the country, Pet Pulse conducted numerous interviews with officers in animal control and law enforcement specializing in animal cruelty cases. Due to the nature of trunking, relatively few had even handled a trunking case first-hand.

For some dog fighters, trunking is a chosen method because it is so difficult for police to detect, in fact nearly impossible, authorities say. Typically it can neither be seen nor heard.

“(For) law enforcement driving by, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow,” said NJSPCA Cpl. Al Peterson, whose beat includes known dog fighting ghettos in the crime-ridden city of Newark.

Inner cities are prime trunking territory, with participants partial to larger cars with spacious trunks, Peterson says.

“I found out about it through police intelligence coming out of North Carolina,” Peterson said of how the re-born crime hit his radar. “The criminal element never sleeps. They’re always thinking of some kind of way to do something to get it done.”

Trunking has existed for at least two decades, authorities say. Yet not a single agency contacted by Pet Pulse could claim one arrest, much less a conviction for trunking.

“It’s out there,” Shatkin said. “And it’s a technique that amateur, urban dog fighters will use as a way to thwart law enforcement. It’s just another creative, brutal method of dog fighting.”

While fighting dogs in trunks is not new in concept, the term, “trunking,” is, Hardiman says. The results of a Google search proved it with barely a notable entry surfacing after entering “trunking” and “dog fighting.”

During his younger days, Hardiman says he ran Chicago’s mean streets and associated with dog fighters. While the illegal blood sport is still rampant in the Windy City, Hardiman says trunking is more prevalent on the East Coast.

“Nobody’s heard about it,” said Hardiman, as he walked through the West Side of Chicago’s Austin section with his own pit bull. “This is the first time that it’s really come up again, and it’s resurfaced just a little bit.”

Urban youth, often unable to afford entertainment, sometimes use trunking for amusement at the expense of helpless dogs, Hardiman says. “If your music is blasting, you can actually be driving around. So it’s like a thrill,” Hardiman said. “It’s exciting just to have those dogs gorging each other up in the trunk, while you’re smoking a blunt or something like that.”

But the web of dog fighting’s underground hierarchy is best defined by three levels, according to Hardiman.

“Level One:” one-on-one street fights arranged by teens, with little or no money gambled.

“Level Two:” fights in abandoned buildings or garages, often involving those with gang affiliations, with hundreds to thousands of dollars wagered.

“Level Three:” sophisticated dog rings, like Michael Vick’s, carried out in a pit with spectators, handlers and a referee, with up to hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake.

Trunking typically happens on Level Two, and can serve as a dog-fighting training ground for dogs and breeders, Hardiman says.

“You can definitely build your reputation, because every time you come out of the trunk and you don’t have many scars on you, you won the fight,” Hardiman said.

“Once they let you out of the trunk, your reputation gets bigger, and bigger and bigger because you had the baddest fighting dog.”

Recalling a cruelty call in Norfolk, Va., Mark Kumpf, a former animal control officer for the city, told Pet Pulse he confronted juveniles suspected of trunking.

“The dogs had some clearly fresh injuries on them. And we were able, through our investigation, to determine that they had actually placed the dogs in a vehicle a short time before and allowed the dogs to fight,” said Kumpf, who now is the president of the National Animal Control Association in Kansas City.

Reports of trunking also stem out of Indianapolis.

Stacey Coleman, president of Indy Pit Crew, a pit bull advocacy group in Indianapolis, says some known gang members told her they were involved in trunking.

“It was something that these particular young people were aware of,” Coleman told Pet Pulse. “They suggested they had participated in it.”

To end the streets’ appeal of dog fighting, Hardiman helps rehabilitate former dog fighters and their pit bulls through the Humane Society’s Campaign to End Dog Fighting. A few of the program’s participants and their dogs roamed the streets with Hardiman during Pet Pulse’s interview.

One of those men -- a former dog fighter -- says he no longer fights dogs and advocates against the practice.

Wanting to only be referred to as “Marco,” he recounted his dog fighting days, telling Pet Pulse the mutilation of innocent dogs had only bothered him for one reason in particular.

“You lost your money,” he said.

While the loss pinched Marco’s wallet, Pet Pulse asked if the dogs’ injuries ever hurt his conscience.

“Back then you didn’t really care. You trained it, fed it to do what it do,” Marco said.

Marco’s candor continued with an answer about if, at that time, he had any feelings at all for a dog maimed in a fight.

“No, you can’t have no feelings or you wouldn’t fight it,” Marco said.

That lack of empathy toward the canine victims represents a prevailing attitude among those involved in trunking, Hardiman says.

“Guys are just in the swing of things, guys in the community,” he said, adding they figure, “Hey look, it sounds like it’s something good to do, fight some dogs in a trunk, OK?”

The HSUS told Pet Pulse that national statistics on animal cruelty convictions from dog fighting are not kept. While the NJSPCA says that since the Vick case, tips from the public have increased but dog fighting arrests have not.

“I don’t think we’re going to just be able to put the brakes on it,” Shatkin said. “We just have to persevere, and we have to continue our efforts in law enforcement.”

Until police make better inroads, trunking will remain cloaked in darkness.

To report suspected trunking, dog fighting or other illegal animal fighting, call 877-TIP-HSUS.

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