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Meet Mona Lisa: a survivor of dog fighting

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Underground dog fighting rings throughout Central Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania State Police say there are a number of them.

According to investigators, it’s happening in both rural and urban communities here in Central Pennsylvania, and tens of thousands of dollars are at stake. 

The victims are the dogs, who are bred, groomed, and trained in terrible conditions, to fight, but many of them do not survive.

Mona Lisa is a survivor of dog fighting.

Except Mona Lisa isn’t aggressive in the least, just a sweet young pitbull.

She's missing part of her mouth, injured when criminals used her as bait for other dogs to attack.

"She’s able to chew, she just tends to make a huge mess on the floor," said Stacey Noell, Mona Lisa's mother.

Mona Lisa found her forever home after Noells 7-year-old son fell in love during an after school program at the Speranza Animal Rescue in Cumberland County.

"He saw her heart, and he loved her. He couldn’t see the injury on her face," explained Noell.

Mona Lisa is just one of the many dogs abused through dog fighting. 

“It’s everywhere really. It transcends cultural racial and all sorts of of demographic boundaries," said Corporal Adam Reed with Pennsylvania State Police.

And the handlers, promoters, referees, and gamblers involved have thousands of dollars at stake.

Investigators who understand the rings say the dogs are bred to fight and then conditioned to perform.

The dogs are tethered with heavy chains and fed narcotics and steroids to increase strength, kept close to other dogs but just out of reach, and trained to attack. 

“Personally speaking, I’m a dog lover. I have a little pug at home, and I hate to hear stories about this. just really how people are capable of immersing themselves in a culture like this," said Cpl. Reed.

Detectives say it’s kill or be killed for the dogs. Many times, even the winner doesn’t make it out of the pit.

For rescuers who take in the survivors, like Mona Lisa here, it’s devastating.

"Heartbroken that somebody out there could do something so horrific to such an innocent creature. Dogs are intended to be man’s best friend and to be there by their side… and they’ve done nothing to deserve the hurt that some people try to put them through," said Noell.

People involved with animal fighting can face felony charges - that includes betters, spectators, referees, and promoters.

Investigators say dog fighting happens right in our backyards, but it can be hard to recognize signs of it. Two main indicators include injuries to the dogs upper bodies and faces and being tethered by long, spiked chains. Investigators say it’s crucial people report any signs of potential abuse.

You can do so by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-472-8477 or by calling the State Police Animal Cruelty Officer at 717-772-5112.

To contact the PSPCA dog fighting tip line, call 866-601-7722.

Reports can be anonymous.