Authorities arrested three people and seized fifty dogs Tuesday in connection with a suspected dogfighting operation in Sevier County.
The Sevier County Sheriff’s Office arrested three residents of 1290 N. Creek Side Ln. in Sevierville on alleged dogfighting charges and rescued fifty pit bull terriers with assistance from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Sevier County Sheriff’s Animal Control and Blount County SPCA.
After executing a search warrant at the address, deputies found fifty pit bull terriers on the property, along with dogfighting paraphernalia, money and drugs.
47-year-old Mark Heatherly has been charged with two counts of dogfighting. Additional charges are possible. His wife Kimberly L. Heatherly, 45, and son Jacob R. Heatherly, 23, were charged with conspiracy to commit dogfighting. All three have also been charged with possession of schedule VI narcotics (marijuana) and possession of schedule III narcotics (hydrocodone).
The arrests are the result of a four-month investigation into the suspected dogfighting operation.
The Humane Society of the United States brought its mobile crime lab and assisted law enforcement in identifying and documenting evidence, as well as coordinating the rescue effort. Blount County SPCA also assisted in handling and documenting the dogs. PetSmart Charities provided necessary supplies and enrichment items for the dogs.
The rescued dogs range in age from 4 weeks to mid-teens. Kept outside, many wore collars with heavy chains attached to posts in the ground. Others were in kennels. Some dogs showed signs of neglect with their ribs and spine visible and according to authorities, some had scars consistent with dogfighting.
“These 50 dogs are the lucky ones who no longer face life at the end of a heavy chain or worse—a bloody pit,” said Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for The HSUS. “We are thankful to the Sevier County authorities for their efforts in this investigation and in forcing dogfighting out of their community. We will continue working with law enforcement around the country to stamp out this blood sport for good.”
The Humane Society of the United States transported the dogs from the Sevierville property to a temporary shelter for veterinary care. Considered evidence, the dogs are not currently available for adoption. Pending the outcome of the case, the organization will evaluate each dog for potential placement in its Dogfighting Rescue Coalition.
“Dogfighting is a despicable crime that will not be tolerated in Sevier County,” said Sheriff Ron Seals. “We are grateful for the assistance and expertise of The Humane Society of the United States on this case, and glad to see these dogs off to better lives.”
Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states. Under Tennessee law, it is a felony offense to fight animals, to buy, sell or trade them for fighting and a misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight.
The The Humane Society of the United States offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting. Anyone with information about animal fighting criminals may call 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787). Tipsters’ identities are protected.
Rescue groups interested in becoming members of the HSUS’ Dogfighting Rescue Coalition should visithumanesociety.org/drc
All persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Photo Credit: All photos Frank Loftus/For the HSUS