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"Nah," Mills can be heard saying when the lethally rigged extension cord comes his way. "I like to get rid of mine at home."
Though Hammer survived, investigators say Joseph Addison, the man who brought the electrical cord, killed one of his own dogs later that night.
"Addison stated that he did not have 'chain space,' for a dog who lost," reads an indictment filed that summer. "Addison attached an alligator clipped cable to the female dog's lip and rear flank. [The owner of the barn] handed Addison the end of the extension cord. Addison electrocuted the dog."
Occupying two and a half square miles along the northeast border of East St. Louis, Illinois, the village of Washington Park is home to approximately 5,000 residents and no fewer than seven strip clubs. This past April the mayor was robbed and shot to death after stopping on one of the town's two main drags to offer a pedestrian a ride.
It was dark by the time Mills, Heath, their informant and two other dogfighters arrived in Washington Park on the evening of November 15, 2008. The undercover officers steered their SUV to a rundown white clapboard house with a junk-strewn lawn on the outskirts of town. The fighting pit was in the back yard, surrounded by a group of about 40 people. Everyone paid $20 to William Berry, the show's promoter, better known by his street name, Black.
One of the night's main events was a $2,000 showdown between Black's dog and a pit bull owned by a dogfighter from St. Louis who'd been boarding the dog at the Highway Patrol agents' kennel. (Mills will not divulge the man's name because he has yet to be charged.) The man had intended to handle the dog himself, but he was ill and had asked the agents' snitch to stand in for him.
The fight was a grueling one that dragged on for more than two hours. Pit bulls in top condition are relentless, and in the frenzy of battle they're impervious to virtually anything short of heat stroke. Heath and Mills tell of seeing dogs fight through broken legs.
"The only reason a pit bull will quit fighting is because it's hot," Mills says. "It's not because of the pain. It'll fight for you for love and loyalty. It won't quit because it's hurtin'."
In addition to steroids, some owners inject their dogs with epinephrine or, foolishly, methamphetamine and cocaine to increase their fighting drive. The stimulants can kill fighting dogs; they die from kidney or heart failure, or heat exhaustion.
And yet, contrary to popular belief, pit bulls rarely fight to the death. Not only is it unnecessary — the dominant animal usually proves itself before fatal wounds are inflicted — it's imprudent. If a dog is game and descended from a reputable bloodline, its offspring will be valuable commodities. The detectives say this often provided a convenient excuse to end fights before their dogs sustained serious injuries.
"We'd pull the plug at the cost of having to suck our egos and go on," Mills says. "Once that referee says, 'Release your dog,' and they make contact, the case is made. From then on we're looking for an excuse to end this fight. Like anything, we're very competitive guys and we wanna win. But it wasn't about that."
"If our dog was out there getting hurt, we'd pick it up," Heath adds. "We had some story: 'That dog's worth a lot to us for breeding purposes. He's obviously winning the fight, but he's more valuable for me to take him home.'"