Chuck Simmons could see the dogs through his binoculars. They didn’t look healthy. He saw people going in and out of the South Gordon Road property in Austell. And he heard the roar of the ATV engines, a telltale sign to the veteran law enforcement officer. Dogs can be tied to the back of all-terrain vehicles and forced to run behind them, Simmons said. It builds stamina in fighting dogs.
Simmons, who was acting on an anonymous tip, took his findings to investigators in Cobb. The dogs -11 adults and five puppies- were seized this week by members of the Marietta-Cobb-Smyrna Organized Crime Intelligence Unit, Cobb police and animal control officers. Two men, Michael Sweeney, 45, and Erik Vann, 28, have been charged with 16 felony counts of dog fighting.
The tip that led to their arrests came through a toll-free number established in January by Greg Norred, founder of the Atlanta private security firm Norred & Associates. “I’m just passionate about animal rights,” Norred said. More than 100 calls have come to the phone line, including some from Tennessee and Mississippi.
He started the phone line with the Humane Society of the United States, which offers an award of up to $5,000 to callers whose tips lead to a conviction. The calls are confidential. The toll-free phone line in Georgia is the first of its kind in the country for the Humane Society, which is considering establishing a national number, said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues. The call about the Cobb property came in shortly after the line was created, said Simmons, a private investigator for Norred.
Simmons, who follows up on calls to the number, said the raid in Cobb is the first one in Georgia based on a call to the tip line. “We want to eliminate all dog fighting on Georgia,” said Simmons, who’s been a cop in Georgia and Florida.
Goodwin said Georgia still has weak dogfighting laws and hopes the Cobb arrests will draw attention to the need for stronger legislation. House Bill 301 would strengthen the law, establishing a minimum fine of $5,000 or one to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, the Austell dogs were “doing well” Wednesday, said Robert Quigley, a spokesman for Cobb County. “Some are malnourished,” Quigley said. “Some have injuries. Our staff is following the recommendations of the veterinarian to help them recover.”