Matt Rossell was rollerblading up NE MLK Blvd a few weeks ago when he heard the sounds of barking and screaming. When he went to investigate, he found himself staring down two pit bulls, hot from a chase, and closing in on him. One attacked first, knocking him down as the other joined in. Panicked, Rossell dragged himself through traffic, yelling for help. Finally escaping into a vehicle, the dogs left Rossell and ran home one block away.

"I'm sure these dogs were mistreated," says Rossell, who ironically helps head up the local chapter of In Defense of Animals, an organization that lobbies for animal and pets rights.

In its wake, the incident has sparked discussion about the prevalence--or alleged prevalence--of dog fights in Portland. Steve Duin reported in The Oregonian that the dogs were trained for fighting. Animal rights activists have also claimed that such fights exist, but law enforcement says that this is even more rare than it is rumored to be.

Even so, Rossell insists from experience that fights do happen in Northeast. "The losing dogs end up getting dumped," he says, "on the street at night, torn-up and near-death." The United States Humane Society backs up such claims, estimating that at least 45,000 people fight dogs or attend fights nationally every year, a felony in most states. The Oregonian also quoted a snippet from the police report where the brother of 18-year old Travis West, owner of the dogs in Russell's attack, gives his opinion that the dogs were trained to fight.

But evidence for this accusation is shaky. John Rowton of the Multnomah County Animal Shelter (where the dogs are being impounded) disagrees that either animal was used for fighting. He points to key indicators--the dogs have no bite scars and they're females. Lt. Covey, a field service supervisor at the Oregon Humane Society, also denies that dog fighting is gaining popularity in Portland. "We only get reports about fights occasionally," he says. Oregon has only had one dog fight conviction, a case that materialized 18 months ago when police searching for drugs in a Portland home also found evidence of fights.