Anne Sterling with Plum
Seized in a 2009 dogfighting raid, Plum is Anne Sterling’s constant companion and a reminder of the lifesaving power of teamwork. Photo by Ryan Irvin

In August 2009, the Humane Society of the United States and its in-state shelter partners assisted the Indiana Gaming Commission with the largest dogfighting raid in the state’s history. Law enforcement agents seized 109 dogs from three separate properties, one of which, in a remote wooded area, held over 80 dogs. Their owner had been breeding dogs for fighting since the late 1970s and lived several hours away; he apparently came to the property twice a week to give the dogs food and water.

I had been with the HSUS for two years at the time, serving as the Indiana state director. I will always remember walking the tree-shrouded property on that hot, heavy August day, the sound of barking dogs as far as the ear could hear. Most had little prior exposure to humans; some were quivering in makeshift shelters while others seemed desperate for attention. The property had been used to warehouse fighting dogs for so long that trees had grown around the logging chains to which the dogs were tethered.

It was an overwhelming scene of animal neglect and suffering.

Such would have been the lingering fate of my dog, Plum, had the Indiana Gaming Commission not possessed the legal authority to remove her and the other animals from such a miserable life. Yet the agency did have that authority, thanks to people I will never know, including legislators, advocates and our state’s animal sheltering community, whose efforts years before had resulted in the passage of Indiana’s landmark dogfighting law.

A lot has changed since then. Plum will be 10 in August. She has lived long enough to have a gray muzzle, and she is dearly loved by our family. I am now the vice president of state affairs for the HSUS, working with a team of talented state and regional directors who work every day alongside our shelter partners and allies to secure the passage of laws that crack down on puppy mills, animal fighting and other cruelties.

I have seen firsthand the power that strong laws can have on the lives of individual animals like Plum. But laws are only the start. Without shelters and rescues ready and willing to usher rescued animals into the next chapter of their lives, many animals would never have a second chance. And without the broad work of public education we all do, these laws and the needs of the animals involved would not receive the proper attention and support of regular citizens.

Whether your shelter or rescue is helping to pass strong animal protection laws, rescuing and rehoming animals in your community, or connecting with the public through education and humane outreach, your work is invaluable. All of us at the HSUS thank you for what you do! If you have not met your state director, please consider reaching out at [yourstate]@humanesociety[dot]org (e.g., ohio@humanesociety[dot]org) so we can work together to address the issues impacting animals in your state. Together, we can create the humane society that animals deserve.

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