RALEIGH , N.C. -- A dog named Hurricane Hugo has lived a life as destructive as the storm with the same name.
Restrained by a logging chain hooked to a car axle buried in the ground, the pit bull's only shelter from cold, heat and rain likely was a blue 50-gallon plastic barrel. At 46 pounds, he was described as severely underweight.
If his days were spent as those of most fighting dogs, he spent hours each week on a treadmill to build his endurance. At other times, he would have been tethered within several feet of another dog to create aggression.
"Their day-to-day life is spent chained to the ground," Amber Burckhalter, a dog trainer in Atlanta who works with aggressive animals said of the typical fighting dog's life. "They unchain them for a dogfight and they go into the pit. And if they come out, they come out. And if they don't ..."
Burckhalter examined Hugo after an undercover investigator bought him at a dogfighting enclave in Duplin County in April 2010.
The man who sold Hugo, 78-year-old Harry Hargrove, is considered a legend in the dogfighting world and was sentenced Thursday to 60 months in prison, the toughest sentence that U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle could give him. He was taken into custody immediately.
By comparison, NFL player Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison and three years of probation. He served 18 months in a federal penitentiary and two months on home confinement before resuming his football career.
"This is as sick as it gets," Boyle told Hargrove. "It really is."
Hargrove told the judge that he once had more than 100 dogs but was down to about 35 when he was arrested. Some of those 35 dogs weren't his, he said. Boyle brushed that explanation aside.
"This doesn't make it better," he said.
Hargrove's brother and niece believe that his experience in Vietnam changed Hargrove dramatically, said his attorney, Sherri Alspaugh. Boyle rejected that theory out of hand.
"Why would he discard all of that for a life of brutality?" the judge asked.
Hargrove had pleaded guilty earlier this year to selling, delivering, possessing, training, and transporting animals for the purposes of having the animals participate in an animal fighting venture.
In their motion for a tough sentence, the U.S. Attorney's Office described a gruesome, blood-stained scene where winning dogs barely survived and losing dogs were electrocuted, their carcasses found in a pit where garbage was burned.
"It was horrific," said Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace, whose office got a tip about the dogfighting on Hargrove's rural property. Thirty-five dogs were found on the land, behind Hargrove's older mobile home, which was located about 100 yards down a dirt path, Wallace said.
The early investigation by Wallace's deputies told the sheriff that this case required assistance. He learned that Hargrove had lived in Duplin County, then joined the military and left the area for decades.
He traveled dogfighting circuits in Georgia, South Carolina and maybe Florida before landing back in Duplin County, Wallace said.
So Wallace called the feds and he called humane organizations and the undercover officer went to Hargrove's home, where he bought Hugo for $1,500. Hargrove told the agent he had fought Hugo three times and that Hugo had won all three.