The pit bulls had scars along their backs and sides.
Blood and excrement stained a set of wooden boards, fitted with hinges so they could be formed into a fighting pit.
Six dogs, heavy chains running from their collars to the unplanted dirt, were pinned to the ground behind a bizarre high desert house that police say was a center for the illegal blood sport of dogfighting.
“It smelled like the worst kennel you’ve ever been in in your life,” said Los Angeles Sheriff Lt. Larry Gregg, who described the scene for NBCLosAngeles.com.
Deputies raided the house in the community of Littlerock Saturday night, arresting twelve people and removing eight dogs, Gregg said.
Humans and animals were crowded into a bizarre backyard compound made entirely of old garage doors, Gregg said. Among them was a man the Humane Society of the United States says is a suspected kingpin of Southern California dogfighting.
“You walk into a garage where it looked like they were doing the fighting, and there were these two-by-fours hinged together,” Gregg said. “There was blood all over the boards, and fecal matter."
Dogfighting, which dates from the 1800s, is illegal in most countries, but continues as an underworld activity.
Participants pay entrance fees and place bets on which dog will win the fight. Owners of winning dogs can charge stud fees for breeding more fighters.
The dog of choice for these fights in the U.S. is the American Pit Bull Terrier, bred for fighting in the early 1800s from English Bulldogs and a terrier breed.
“Dogs are pitted against each other in fights that end with the death of one or both dogs,” Goodwin said. “These animals suffer and die just for the entertainment and gambling desires of the people who are there.”
Dogfighting has been on the wane in the United States since football player Michael Vick pleaded guilty in a high-profile case in 2007, drawing attention to remaining fighting and gambling rings, Goodwin said.
Since the Vick case, incidents of dogfighting have dropped in half in the U.S., he said, largely due to an increase in police enforcement.
The tip that led sheriff deputies to the Littlerock house came from a hotline set up by the Humane Society aimed at tracking down dogfighting rings. The animal rights agency has a dogfighting fact sheet online, and its tipline is 1-877-NO2FITE.
But Goodwin said the fights continue in many places, including Southern California.
More content from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Slow-moving storm Debby drenches Florida
- Calif. teacher, 4 students arrested over alleged hazing
- Police officer shot dead at jazz concert in Denver park
- Video: Florida residents take golf carts to the streets
- Marchers fill streets as cities across US celebrate gay pride
- NY GOP lawmakers targeted over gay marriage vote