PARIS — The Oxford County Sheriff's Office is investigating the disappearance of dogs and the possibility of a dogfighting ring, Sheriff Wayne Gallant said Wednesday.
Gallant said his department hadn't received any complaints and had not heard from Animal Control Officer Ozzie Hart about the incidents.
“We are following up,” Gallant said. He said Detective Thomas Harriman is looking into the case.
Hart said Tuesday that nearly 20 dogs have been reported missing since January, and that some of those were stolen from yards. One former West Paris resident's dog was found dead, wrapped in a tarp and dumped on a lawn a week after she was stolen.
According to Hart, the dog thefts, combined with barking and gunshots coming from wooded areas may point to local dogfighting. Most of the dogs stolen or missing have been pit bull-type dogs.
Gallant said the idea that dogs are being stolen as bait dogs for dogfighting is speculation at this point. “I've had cases in the past where you've had some sort of disgruntled person who was bit by a dog before,” he said. “Who knows?”
Auburn's former Animal Control Officer Bentley Rathbun agreed. He said without any hard evidence of dogfighting, the dog thefts and disappearances could have several causes.
Rathbun said he found several dead dogs in the Androscoggin River while he was animal control officer, but that the dogfights he saw were in streets and alleys, when pit bull owners would each release their dogs and have them fight, later claiming their dogs had escaped their grasp.
The Humane Society of the United States offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to dogfighting convictions. The case must be open and law enforcement officials are not eligible.
Anyone with information should contact law enforcement. If a suspect is convicted thanks to evidence submitted, the informant is eligible for a cash reward from the HSUS, if they provide a letter from their local law enforcement agency stating the evidence helped in the arrest and conviction of an animal fighter.