WEST PARIS  — An animal control officer in western Maine says he believes a dog fighting ring might be responsible for a series of dog thefts over the last several months.

West Paris animal control officer Ozzie Hart says eight dogs have been reported missing or stolen this year in Woodstock, Sumner, West Paris and Hartford.

Seven of the eight missing dogs have been pit bulls.

Hart says people have reported the sounds of dogs barking and gunshots at night off Old County Road in Woodstock. He says the sounds are consistent with dog-fighting.

Hart tells the Sun Journal he believes the stolen dogs were being used as “bait dogs,” nonaggressive dogs used to train fighting dogs. Bait dogs are often mauled or killed in the process.