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After Amber Norton of Dunkirk adopted Edgar, a pit bull who was rescued in Texas from a multi-state dog-fighting ring last August, she soon noticed her new “happy-go-lucky” and “motivated” pet was chewing and licking at his skin.

A specialist in Baltimore believes the problem to be a food allergy, so Edgar now is on a highly controlled diet, eating a prescription dog food that consists of oats and kangaroo meat, which Norton said is very hard to find and costs about $100 a bag.

This treatment is unrecognizable from the life of isolation and violence that Edgar likely endured during his time as part of the second-largest known dog-fighting ring in U.S. history.

Edgar was one of 16 dogs from this case taken in by the Humane Society of Calvert County, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spokeswoman Emily Schneider said in an email.

In order to start a national conversation about the plight of Edgar and other dogs like him and to encourage people to take action, the ASPCA has termed April 8 the first National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.

“The reason we do this work is to see some of these dogs be rescued from these situations and re-homed into loving homes and become members of the family and really represent the breed in a way that it should be represented,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCA Field Investigations & Response Team, who played a role in removing Edgar and other dogs from the ring. “Pit bulls are wonderful dogs, and it’s so sad that they have been and continue to be exploited in this terrible manner.”

The dog-fighting industry, Rickey said, is more prevalent than the general public realizes and treats dogs as “products.” In doing so, it aims to enhance aggression and strength in dogs using brutal tactics so that dogs perform well in fights, which take place for betting purposes.

Bets placed on the fights can range from $500 to $50,000, although Rickey said he knows of contract fights that went as high as a half-million dollars.

The practice is a felony is all 50 states, according to the ASPCA’s website. But in many cases, that doesn’t stop handlers from breeding dogs throughout the course of generations to heighten their aggression, Rickey said.

Once the dogs, mostly pit bulls because of their muscular build, are born, they are often kept on heavy chains close to other dogs so they constantly are riled up, Rickey said.

He said once the dogs are old enough to fight (usually at about 18 months to 2 years old), their lives are shaped by the preparation to do so: They are exercised on treadmills, forced to grab hold of hanging objects to strengthen their neck and jaw muscles and bonded with their handlers.

But Rickey said the “betrayal” comes when a dog is then put in the ring with an opponent and made to engage in a fight that could last as long as two hours.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t perform well, they really suffer the consequences of that with their life, and that can be anything from a gunshot, electrocution, hanging or drowning,” Rickey said. “And it’s oftentimes done right at the fight to demonstrate to everybody that they are going to weed out what they consider a weak dog.”

Even the winners don’t really win, as they are usually placed back on the chain until it is time for them to fight again, and the cycle continues until the dog dies from injuries or is retired and used for breeding, he said.

Instead of meeting the fate of so many of his counterparts, Ringo, another dog saved from the ring, was adopted by Jenine Wellman of Owings and her family in March.

“I think it’s just disgusting and horrible what those people do to dogs. … It’s just heartbreaking to know what’s going on out there,” Wellman said. “But at the same time, that they were able to be rescued is just amazing.”

Although he started out his life in a dog-fighting environment, Ringo just wants to play — especially with the Wellmans’ two cats.

“They just swat him away if they’re not in the mood,” Wellman said.

Norton and Wellman both say their pit bulls are loving, playful and sweet, debunking the myth that all dogs that come from dog-fighting situations are dangerous and unfit to be pets.

Kirstyn Northrop-Cobb, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Calvert County who fostered Ringo for several months before he was adopted, said the situation does not define the dog.

“They all have individual personalities. Many of them have gone on to live happy, healthy lives as family pets,” she said.

For more information about National Dog Fighting Awareness Day and about how the public can get involved, go to its page on the ASPCA’s website,, to take the interactive quiz, watch the mini-documentary about the sport and more.