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A pit bull was killed after being forced to fight another dog. His owner will now spend 10 years in prison.

Federal agents found pit bulls while investigating a Georgia dogfighting ring, and many were emaciated, scarred or injured. (Justice Department)

Les Meyers’s dog won the fight, but victory was not enough to save him.

After the win, Meyers unleashed the unnamed pit bull one last time for a “courtesy scratch,” a dogfighting ritual in which the victor attacks a vanquished opponent — or its corpse — to show its “gameness.” The display, in illegal dogfighting circles, brings prestige to a handler.

Injured and exhausted, Meyers’s dog refused to attack One-Eyed Willie, the pit bull he had just defeated in a gruesome 45-minute brawl.

Enraged, Meyers used a belt to hang his dog from a tree branch, choking him to death.

On Friday, Meyers was sentenced to 10 years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act and illegally possessing a handgun as a felon. He was among the last of 12 defendants to be sentenced in a 2017 Georgia dogfighting case.

The national spotlight turned to the underground world of dogfighting when NFL superstar Michael Vick pleaded guilty in 2007 and 2008 to running an illegal dogfighting ring on one of his properties in southeastern Virginia. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison and paid nearly $1 million restitution to care for the dozens of dogs pulled from Bad Newz Kennels, which federal authorities said Vick had run for five years.

Congress increased the penalty to a five-year felony and broadened the scope of the offense, federal prosecutor Ethan Eddy wrote in court documents. States also responded. Since 2008, dogfighting has been a felony in all 50 states, The Washington Post reported in 2019. Law enforcement has also increasingly realized that animal cruelty often accompanies other crime, giving officers added incentive to look into reports of fighting rings.

A second chance: Twelve years ago, 47 dogs were rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation and allowed to live

Meyers, 45, was the “most culpable” of the defendants involved in the 2017 fight, prosecutors said, and he got hit with the harshest punishment. The most prison time any other defendants got was 2½ years. Meyers’s attorney, federal public defender Catherine Williams, said they plan to appeal the sentence but declined to comment further.

The case arose out of a dogfight with a $100 admission fee that happened on Jan. 21, 2017, in Sumter County, Ga., a rural community with a shrinking population some 30 miles east of the Alabama state line. Meyers had traveled about 100 miles from his home in Tallahassee with two dogs, the one he pitted against One-Eyed Willie and a second one he planned to sell.

Undercover video of the two-fight event showed Meyers goading his dog to keep attacking, Eddy wrote. But toward the end of the footage, “both dogs became so exhausted and injured that their ability to continue fighting began to wane.”

Eventually, the designated referee declared Meyers’s dog the winner. But the owner grew enraged when the dog wouldn’t perform a “sadistic” coup de grace to prove the winner would have kept mauling if the fight had continued.

So Meyers took off his belt, put it around the dog’s neck and tried to hang the animal from the tailgate of a nearby van, court records state. When the van failed to support the weight, Meyers swung the pit bull by his neck, took him over to a tree and strung him up.

“It is difficult to conceive of a greater amount of suffering that a human being could inflict on a helpless animal,” Eddy wrote.

Federal agents and local sheriff’s deputies found the dog’s body under the bumper of Meyers’s Chrysler PT Cruiser when they raided the property as the second and final dogfight was about to start. After many of the participants fled, law enforcement officers found an enclosed fighting pit smeared with blood. Even though both of the female dogs set to brawl in the second fight were alive, one had suffered injuries so severe she had to be put down.

In Meyers’s PT Cruiser, agents discovered a .45-caliber pistol, a skin stapler used to repair wounds, syringes, 500 milliliters of injectable sodium chloride — which can be used to replenish fluids — and dexamethasone, a prescription veterinary drug used to treat swelling and inflammation.

They also collected about $18,000 in cash after owners and spectators fled.

Armed with search warrants, federal agents raided the homes of some of the defendants. They found dozens of pit bulls in conditions “consistent with dogfighting,” federal prosecutors wrote in a statement. Many were emaciated, scarred or injured. Agents also found dogfighting equipment, including veterinary steroids, a dog treadmill and a record of the animals’ fights, including whether they had died.

The January 2017 dogfight had been planned for months and was part of an organized ring that included Meyers and several others. To support the business, court records state, Meyers maintained properties to house, train and condition pit bulls he then used in dogfights. He kept intravenous tubing and bags, skin staplers and veterinary drugs to inject and treat those wounded during fights.

Meyers and others also communicated extensively to set up fights, arrange animal sales, discuss dogs’ fighting histories, share canine injury treatments and swap tactics for evading law enforcement.

In September 2018, more than a year after breaking up the dogfight in Sumter County, authorities raided a property in southwest Georgia where prosecutors alleged Meyers was keeping 27 pit bulls for his “animal fighting venture.”

Meyers has a history of dogfighting. In 2011, he was convicted of 33 counts of animal cruelty in Leon County, Fla., federal prosecutors wrote in court documents. In that case, officers found 13 pit bulls crated inside a residence he used to run a previous operation. The dogs had no access to food, and some of the crates were splattered with blood.

Outside, authorities found another 13 dogs chained up, including two that were dead, court documents said. A veterinarian determined both had died of sepsis from untreated injuries. Some of the survivors struggled to stand, and other dogs were found to be “severely emaciated.” While deputies were there, a female dog dragged herself out from a crawl space underneath the home.

“She had extensive, fresh dog fighting injuries and swelling from those, and could not stand on her own. In one of the photographs, exposed tissue below the skin can be seen through a hole,” Eddy wrote.

“Her suffering was so acute that the responding veterinarian euthanized her,” the prosecutor added.

Meyers served a year-long sentence in jail for those convictions.

Still, prosecutors said, the investigation following the 2017 dogfight proved Meyers was “utterly undeterred” from “this pattern of cruelty.” He rebuilt a remarkably similar operation, which is why prosecutors pushed for a stiffer-than-normal sentence: six years in prison.

“Those who choose to brutalize animals for entertainment and profit must know that their criminal conduct will be severely punished,” Eddy wrote.

The federal judge added four years and hit Meyers with more than a decade in prison.