Following a four month investigation, the Sevier County Sheriff’s Dept. arrested three people in connection with an illegal dog fighting operation. The arrest led to the rescue of 50 dogs from the operation.
The SCSD executed a search warrant at a residence located at 1290 N. Creekside Lane in Sevierville with assistance from The Humane Society, Sevier County Sheriff’s Animal Control and Blount County SPCA. The dogs rescued range in age from four weeks to mid-teens and some have scars consistent with dog fighting. The authorities also found suspected dog fighting paraphernalia, money and drugs.
Arrested were Mark Heatherly, 47, of 1290 N. Creekside Lane in Sevierville, who has been charged with two counts of dog fighting. Additional charges are possible. His wife, Kimberly L. Heatherly, 45, and son, Jacob R. Heatherly, 23, both of the same address, were charged with conspiracy to commit dog fighting. All three have also been charged with possession of schedule VI narcotics (marijuana) and possession of schedule III narcotics (hydrocodone).
“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 dog fighting out of their community. We will continue working with law enforcement around the country to stamp out this blood sport for good.”
Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals attended a press conference Tuesday to discuss the arrests and address the crime of dog fighting.
“Dog fighting is a despicable crime that will not be tolerated in Sevier County,” said 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.”
The HSUS 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 HSUS removed the dogs from the property pending final disposition of this case. The dogs will be held at a temporary shelter where they will receive needed veterinary care and enrichment. It is The HSUS’ policy that dogs seized from animal fighting operations be treated as individuals and evaluated for potential placement with HSUS dog fighting Rescue Coalition placement partners.
Dog fighting 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 HSUS offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting. The HSUS asks anyone with information about animal fighting criminals to call 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787). The identity of tipsters are protected. The HSUS has been working for a decade to pass stronger animal fighting laws in Tennessee, including cracking down on the spectators who fund these enterprises. Rescue groups interested in becoming members of the HSUS dog fighting Rescue Coalition should visit humanesociety.org/drc.