WOODSTOCK — An Animal Control Officer who believes there may be a dogfighting ring in Western Maine said nearly 20 dogs have been reported missing.
West Paris Animal Control Officer Ozzie Hart said calls came in all weekend about missing dogs and possible criminal activity.
After reading about missing dogs in a Sun Journal report last week, residents have called in previously unreported cases.
A Norway family said they noticed a vehicle last week in their dooryard shortly before going outside to find their dog missing. A Canton woman called Hart with information about a pit bull that was stolen from someone who was using it for dogfighting.
“She stole it from someone who was fighting them,” Hart said. He said he was told the dog's face is badly scarred.
Most of the missing dogs are pit bull types, although a Doberman pinscher, a chocolate Lab and a yellow Lab are also missing. He said many dogs have been missing for weeks, but owners are reporting them now in fear they might have been taken by people involved in dogfighting.
Hart said people have reported seeing a dark truck and a minivan driving together, and he believes they may be working in tandem to steal dogs.
Not everyone is convinced there is dogfighting in Oxford County. Former Auburn Animal Control Officer Bentley Rathbun said the evidence, missing and murdered dogs, doesn't necessarily mean dogfighting. The sounds of barking and gunshots in the woods don't point to that, either, he said.
Professionals keep their dogs quiet, he said, and anyone who was fighting barking dogs must be an amateur.
Before his retirement, Rathbun pulled several dead pit bulls and pit bull mixes from the Androscoggin River. Ten years ago, he was a leading voice in the state for increased vigilance of dogfighting rings.
Hart said he wasn't sure the disappeared dogs are being used for fighting, but that it's likely, considering the evidence.
“I don't know that they're actually fighting them, or that they're taking the dogs and killing them,” Hart said.
According to Hart, local residents have offered to check an area along the power lines in Woodstock where people have reported hearing gunshots and barking. Hart said he told them not to because people involved in dogfighting can be dangerous.
Hart said he's continuing his investigation and has several calls scheduled this week as he gathers information.
He hadn't heard from law enforcement officials since going public with his theory, he said. On Wednesday, Sheriff Wayne Gallant said his department is investigating the matter and that a detective has been assigned to the case.
Dogfighting in Maine is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each offense. Viewing a dogfight is a Class D offense.