The idea that your family pet could be used on the cruel blood sport of dog fighting may be the furthest thing from your mind, but it can happen in ways you don't even realize.
Small dogs, cats, even rabbits are used to train other dogs used for fighting to be more aggressive.
They're called bait animals.
Rancho Coastal Humane Society just rescued 20 dogs from that very fate.
The 20 dogs, many of them puppies, from a shelter in Helena Arkansas, were brought to Encinitas shelter on a "Wings of Rescue Flight" last Thursday.
The dogs survived multiple break-ins where the burglars, for their own amusement or profit, staged dogfights in the facility.
Some of the shelter animals were used as bait dogs, others were forced to fight.
The use of bait animals for the purpose of training dogs to kill is the accepted practice among those in this cruel and illegal blood sport.
"The bait dogs are brought in to agitate the fighters to hone those skills." Really terrible, terrible process." said Steve MacKinnon, chief of Humane Law Enforcement for San Diego Humane Society.
MacKinnon said bait animals can be of any breed or size and not just dogs.
"They are trying to build the aggressiveness in these dogs," MacKinnon said. "They stir them up and release them and get that aggressive tendency"
Last Thursday's "Wings of Rescue" flight was a rescue of a rescue.
Rancho Coastal Humane Society took in 20 dogs from the Humane Society of the Delta in Helena, Arkansas.
"For some people, it is culturally acceptable," Rancho Coastal Humane Society Spokesman John Van Zante said. "How do you change a culture that has been in effect 100 years?"
Van Zante says the Helena shelter is understaffed, underfunded and unsecured.
Several times burglars brought in fighting dogs after hours and used the shelter dogs as bait.
They also staged dogfights among the rescues for their own amusement, he said.
Bitten and bloodied was how some shelter dogs were left after one of the break-ins.
"In some cases, there is minor injuries. In some cases, there is major injuries and in some cases there is fatalities," Van Zante said.
The rescued dogs from Helena are not fighting dogs.
Van Zante said criminals don't adopt shelter dogs to use as bait because it's cost prohibitive, time-consuming, and most couldn't pass the vetting process.
Law enforcement officials said dog fighters looking for bait animals often search the web, classifieds such as Craigslist and other social media sites for pets that people are giving away.
"There is certain language that could be used in a posting that could suggest this is a dogfighting-related case," MacKinnon said.
They also snatch family pets out of their backyards and leave the gate open to make owners believe the animal ran away, he said.
Investigators estimate 100,000 people participate in dog fighting nationwide.
Still, it's difficult to investigate because of the closed culture.
MacKinnon said the best leads come from the pet owners who may be unknowingly fueling the fights.
If, for whatever reason, you have to surrender your pets, Van Zante said don't give them away to strangers take them to a reputable shelter.
Also, keep a close eye on your pets even when they are behind closed gates or in your backyard.
Humane law enforcement relies on tips from the community to help identify animal abusers.
MacKinnon said use your instincts. If there is a situation involving pets that doesn't seem quite right report it.