San Diego

MMA Gym Stops Puppy Prize Raffle After Facing Community Backlash

The gym owner didn't know it was a crime to use a dog as a prize for a raffle, so now he's trying to find the right home for the dog in a way that makes everyone happy.

A mixed martial arts gym that was offering a puppy as a raffle prize to drive up memberships has tapped out of the contest after a visit from the humane society.

A few days ago, Victory MMA and Fitness was offering a 9-week-old Boxer to new membership signees who were entered in a raffle. After posting a photo of the sweet pup, along with the rules of the contest, on social media, the were met with immediate backlash from the community.

Realizing his mistake, gym owner Joe Mannino is now trying to find a home for “Victory” the right way.

"We didn't do this to break the law, so we immediately stopped it,” Mannino said.

His gym has been a staple in the Midway District for nearly three decades.

Mannino said he paid a breeder $22,000 for Victory, a pure-bred boxer pup. 

"We were excited about it,” he said. “We love dogs and we thought that sharing that kind of love was going to be a good thing."

At the time he wasn’t aware of the ethical concerns surrounding his membership drive strategy, concerns he was quickly made aware of in the comments sections on social media.

"In general, there was just a lot negative feedback on social media websites,” Mannino said.

Feedback like, "Dogs are not a door prize,” or "This is gimmicky and irresponsible," and "Living beings should not be given away as prizes."

The complaints even triggered a San Diego Humane Society investigation.

An email to NBC 7 from the Humane Society said it's against the giveaway, saying in part:

"When re-homing an animal, it is critical to make a match that is the right fit for both the animal and her new family."

A humane society officer explained to Mannino that using a puppy as a raffle prize can be a crime in some cases.

The raffle was cancelled, but if you still want Victory, there is a still a chance: Convince the gym you're the best home for Victory and he’s you, free of charge. Mannino says the gym will also take on all neutering, vaccinations and training costs.

All that is required is a written explanation of how you can provide the best home for the puppy. Drop it off at the gym at 3666 Midway Drive and a panel of gym personnel will determine who gets him.

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