BEFORE VICK THERE WAS DAVID TANT

For Charleston, South Carolina residents NFL star quarterback Michael Vick’s problems are old news, just echoes of local headlines in the not-so-distant past.

Three years ago, well before Vick stole the headlines on charges of owning and operating a dogfighting operation, North Charleston resident David Tant was sent to jail after pleading guilty to 41 counts of dogfighting.

If America thinks the allegations spelled out in the Vick indictment are disturbing, consider the lesser known one-time leader of the dark, inhumane world of dogfighting: David Tant, the nation’s No. 2 breeder of pit bull dogs.

“For years, he has been what they refer to in the business as a ‘dog man,’ the upper echelon of dog fighters. He is a recognized referee of dog fights … He’s probably made a mint from selling puppies of that dog.” – Steve Stephenson

In April 2004 Tant was indicted on 68 counts of animal fighting and assault and battery with intent to kill. In the end, authorities found 47 dogs, caged treadmills and armed booby traps at his property.

After entering his guilty plea, Tant was sentenced to 40 years in jail. At the time, that was believed to be the heaviest sentence ever against anyone charged with dogfighting in the state and one of the longest sentences in the nation’s history.

Vick’s troubles shed new light on the dogfighting world but in the Lowcountry this issue has been simmering in the underground for years, a world of betting, animal cruelty, and, in many cases, drug-dealing that needs regular enforcement according to law enforcement officials.

No one is more aware of this than Kay Hyman, the Director of Outreach and Communications at the John Ancrum SPCA in Charleston.

Hyman was out front of the team that cared and housed the litter of dogs once owned by Tant. But in retrospect Hyman believes the media exposure given to Tant’s case has made it more difficult to track and catch dogfighters today. “The David Tant case has shoved the dogfighting ring underground,” Hyman said. “They are difficult to track. They work on computers and Blackberry’s and change locations at the last second.”

All in an effort to stay one step ahead of investigators. This cat-and-mouse game has been going on for three since the Tant conviction and the organization of a South Carolina dogfighting task force.

“In no way has this been stamped out,’’ Mark Plowden, spokesman for S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster told the Charlotte Observer.

Recently, it was learned that an unidentified South Carolina prison inmate offered to help with the Vick investigation. Most believed that source is Tant, but Plowden told the Charlotte Observer “he didn’t have any information about Vick’s alleged involvement in South Carolina dogfights or whether he knew Tant.”

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