ATLANTA -- A tip to a hotline run by an Atlanta-based security firm led to the arrests of 27 people and the rescue of 18 dogs during a dog fighting raid in North Carolina on Saturday night.
Authorities moved in as a dogfight was in progress at a home in Maxton, N.C.
Twenty-seven people were arrested on charges ranging from dog fighting and animal cruelty to being spectators at a dog fight.
Some spectatorscame from asfar away as Maryland and Ohio.
The investigation started with a call to a dog fighting tipline set up by Norred & Associates, a private security firm based in Atlanta.
Chuck Simmons, Norred's lead investigator, said he saw several people jump into a drainage ditch in an attempt to escape.
"They probably didn't know it contained water," he said. "As cold as it was last night, they couldn't have been happy campers when they emerged."
Simmons said law enforcement officers were aided by helicopters with infrared detectors.
"They were able to quickly apprehend suspects based on detection of their body heat," Simmons said.
Several dogs had serious wounds and scars from previous injuries.
They were treated by members of the Atlanta Humane Society's "Humane Emergency Animal Rescue Team" (HEART). The animals were transported to a secure, undisclosed location in the Atlanta area for further care and evaluation. At least one of the animals was a puppy.
During the raid, authorities seized drugs, guns and tens of thousands of dollars.
The operation was headed by Special Agents from the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Division, who were assisted by the North Carolina Highway Patrol, North Carolina wildlife officers, the North Carolina Department of Corrections, the North Carolina Air National Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
To anonymously report suspected cases of animal cruelty, phone 1.877.215.2250.
A reward of up to $5,000 is offered for information leading to the arrest or conviction of a dogfighter.
For more information, visit www.helpstopdogfighting.com.