“We’re really cramped for space,” said Director of Investigations George Bengal as he sat behind his cluttered desk. His small office is on the ground floor of the Philadelphia headquarters of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Erie Avenue in Hunting Park.
Bengal and the nine officers that make up the SPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement are crammed into that office and another medium sized room of cubicles packed so tightly only one person can fit down the middle aisle.
From there they process the 13,000 calls that come to the SPCA’s anonymous tip line each year, investigate possible cases of animal cruelty, patrol neighborhood hot spots and even stage undercover operations.
One of the biggest problems in Philadelphia is the rise of illegal animal fighting rings. Ten percent of the 13,000 calls to the tip line are about animal fighting.
While more attention is given to dog fighting because of the high-profile Michael Vick case of 2007, there is a rising popularity in bird fighting in certain areas of Philadelphia, especially in Hispanic communities.
“It’s still legal in Puerto Rico, so people bring that with them when they move here,” said Bengal.
As of 2008, dog fighting is illegal in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cock fighting, however, is still legal and extremely popular in Guam, Puerto Rico and other countries around the world.
“We had a case on Loudon Street, right near here, where there were 85 people in a row house for a bird fight,” said Bengal. “We found 65 birds in the house being used for the fighting in the basement. A call came in to the police from neighbors about loud music. Thirty-five people were arrested.”
Animal fighting is a growing problem in Philadelphia and across the country, but law enforcement and animal cruelty activists don’t know if it’s because people are more aware or the fighting is actually on the rise.
“You see it especially on the streets up here,” said Bengal. “Every back yard, every teen it seems is involved. A pit bull is the thing to have.”
Though Bengal and his officers have to face a huge network of underground fighting rings every day, they remain positive about their accomplishments.
“We take in thousands of animals every year,” Bengal said. “Through the SCPA, 85 percent of them are rehomed.”