Pit Bulls in Pain

Court cases reveal Philly's weak history of punishing dogfighters.

By Mike Newall 

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 47 | Posted Aug. 25, 2009

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Philadelphia’s most recent dogfighting trial was scheduled last Wednesday morning in courtroom 904 at 11 a.m. The case folder read, “The Commonwealth vs. Anthony Clark.” By noon, Prosecutor Barbara Paul was pacing the hallway. The defense attorney hadn’t shown yet. Odds were when he did show, he’d probably have some reason to ask the judge for a continuance—try to postpone the trial until the Vick storm passed. 

The Philadelphia Eagles’ signing of Michael Vick was having consequences right here in this courtroom. For her part, Paul didn’t want a postponement. She had a half dozen police officers and PSPCA officials waiting to testify. Plus, the Vick outcry could only work to her advantage. Ever since being appointed as Philly’s animal cruelty prosecutor last year, Paul has successfully put down 40 cases, including four dogfighting felonies. But none of these animal cruelty convictions led to actual jail time. 

“It’s very, very rare for judges to give prison time for dogfighting in Philadelphia,” said George Bengal, the PSPCA Director of Law Enforcement. “It’s just not a priority here.”

According to the Humane Society of the United States, Pennsylvania’s dogfighting 
statute ranks among the strictest in the nation. It’s a third degree felony punishable by up to seven years–but that’s just on paper. A review of court records shows that even Philly’s worst dogfighters usually get slaps on the wrists, or even just probation.

PSPCA Humane Officer Tara Loller couldn’t stand it if the man on trial today, Anthony Clark, became the next Philly dogfighter to enjoy a light sentence. As the people inside the courtroom waited for the day’s proceedings to begin, Loller sat on a bench in the hall and sighed. 

“Wasting time … ” she said. 

With every passing hour away from the street, Loller was falling further behind on her caseload. On average there are about 75 complaints of animal fighting each month in Philadelphia. The work never stops, and it pained Loller—on the job for a little under a year—to think of the complaint calls she was missing. But she was determined to testify. She was the responding officer on the Clark case, which stretched back to January when police officers set up surveillance on his N. Avondale street address.

The 37-year-old Clark has a criminal history for rape and attempted murder. Those cases did not result in convictions. On the night of his latest arrest he was busted selling crack from his porch. When police went inside, they found five chained-up and caged pit bulls in his squalid basement. 

Two of the dogs were near death. As responding officer, Loller photographed the injured dogs during their hours of grueling emergency surgery. The pictures of the broken dogs were in a folder on her lap. She was looking forward to showing them to Clark.

“I want him to see the extent of what he did to these dogs,” she said.

Of the five pit bulls tied-up and caged in Clark’s basement the night of his arrest, two of the adult males had the worst wounds. The black one with the blue eyes–who PSPCA vets later named Ren—had infected bites to his nose making it difficult for him to breathe. The tan one with the white patch across his head—renamed Stimpy—whimpered in a cage, unable to put any weight on his right leg. 

Experts say fight dogs are either bred as “boxers” or “wrestlers.” A “boxer” will grab an opponent’s head and maul it till the dog collapses from blood loss. Whereas a “wrestler” will go after his opponent’s limbs and try to take him down that way. 

From the deep, infected wound on the back of Stimpy’s right leg, it was probable that he had been matched against a wrestler. 

Worse, the lower part of Stimpy’s leg was rigidly bent back towards his body, an injury Loller had never seen before.

“He looked extremely sad and in excruciating pain,” said Loller.

Loller wanted to see remorse on Clark’s face. Like the remorse Philadelphia and the rest of the nation has been waiting to see on the face of one particular dogfighter: Michael Vick. 

Like it or not, Vick, a felon who fought dogs as sport, and then shot, hung or drowned them if they couldn’t win him tens of thousands of dollars, is now a part of our city’s collective identity—a potential hero to many if he again dominates on the football field. Unfortunately, he’s already proven to be a hero of sorts. Experts say they’ve seen a direct increase in Philadelphia dogfighting since Vick’s 2007 arrest and incarceration. 

“Philly’s always been a Mecca of dogfighting, but after Vick it exploded,” said Bengal. “He’s an idol.” 

Well, now the idol’s wearing green. And even before Vick accepted a two-year contract that could net him nearly $10 million, Philly dogfighting was up drastically from last year. The PSPCA has investigated over 400 animal cruelty cases so far this year, compared to only 237 in all of 2008.

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Comments 1 - 47 of 47
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1. ConcernedKitty said... on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:18PM

“THANK YOU Judge Gordon. Hopefully your actions will be the first of a long line of appropriate punishments for convicted dogfighters. It's great to see the law being enforced.”

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2. DogGirl said... on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:44PM

“Good for the Pennsylvania SPCA. Please remember they are not supported by the city or any national orgs like the ASPCA. I am sure they need funding. www.pspca.org”

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3. PitLover said... on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:46PM

“As an owner of a rescue pit bull, it pains me to think of all the fans soon to be cheering for Michael Vick. I understand why people feel he deserves a second chance but why did the Eagles organization choose to put their fans in this position? I want to support the team but there is no way I want to support Vick. My beautiful, kind, gentle pit bull and I find it very difficult to forgive him. Thank you PW for revealing the truth about Philadelphia's inexcusable and horrific dog fighting epidemic.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:47PM

“This was a beautifully written article. I am shocked to learn that dogfighting has increased so much since Vick's arrest. This is the kind of "hero" Philadelphia does not need.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Aug 25, 2009 at 11:23PM

“Bad feeling toward the Eagles, bad name for the city.”

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6. LA Law said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 12:00AM

“What I want to see is all of the people who put their time and effort towards protesting the Eagles' and Mike Vick, go down to the Badlands and North Philly and put that same effort against the thugs and drug dealers who run dog fights on a daily basis.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 12:36AM

“The officers who investigate and bust sadistic criminals like Vick are incredible. It must be heartbreaking when judges apply minimal sentences like house arrest. How can we get judges to punish these criminals to the full extent of the law? Legal types chime in here!”

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8. KWolf said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 09:04AM

“What an amazing illustration of dog fighting in Philly! Very well done! One of my dogs was rescued by the PSPCA from a person mentioned in this article, so I'm forever indebted to the PSPCA Humane Law Enforcement Officers! I hope more people will understand that it's not just about the dogs, this is also a problem threatening human beings' safety. It's not like these are otherwise good people who just happened to hurt dogs. Would you want dog fighters around your family members or in your neighborhood?”

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9. EKerrigan said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:14AM

“A HUGE thank-you to Judge Gordon! Note to the Philadelphia judicial system: Can we please send ALL future dogfighting and animal-abuse cases to this man?

And shame on the money-hungry Philadelphia Eagles for bringing the likes of Vick to our city. They should change their name to "Vultures" instead. If there's any karma in the universe, this team will never win another game.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:23AM

“Great informative article! Articles like this is what changes the face of Animal Welfare. I hope the media continues to uncover the truth so we can fight for change.

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11. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:23AM

“Great informative article! Articles like this is what changes the face of Animal Welfare. I hope the media continues to uncover the truth so we can fight for change.

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12. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:23AM

“Great informative article! Articles like this is what changes the face of Animal Welfare. I hope the media continues to uncover the truth so we can fight for change.

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13. Jenni13 said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:18AM

“BRAVO Judge Gordon! Please don't let this be a one-time occurrence. You need to continue to impart harsh sentences on dogfighters and torturers. A slap on the wrist and probation will never be enough to stop this growing problem. I commend the PSPCA for their tireless efforts to help the animals being tortured by these scumbags. So, all you Vick and/or Eagles fans out there.... read this story again and look at the pictures of those poor dogs and remember them every time you cheer for your disgraced team. Helping these defenseless animals is what matters...not winning a championship. The Eagles and the NFL should be ashamed of themselves. Sociopathic, dog torturers do not deserve a second chance.”

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14. Lynn Drew said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:55AM

“Dog fighting people should get even stiffer sentences. Generally, there is some mental disconnection they have with inflicting tortuous pain to living things - there is no connection to the pain. This does not limit itself to the dog fighting ring. Animal torture is a major indicator to harming people later in life and not being capable of remorse. Many times having this mental disconnect cannot be rehabbed (sociopathic). This is not a mistake an otherwise normal individual could make. Once caught, it becomes something the person knows they should not do, but still do not connect feelings to it - the ability to feel remorse is actually missing. I believe this is why we do not see remorse on Vick's face too.”

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15. Janet Fithian said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 12:24PM

“A wonderful piece of reporting. How can we advocate for jail sentences for this crime? The Eagles have only done more to enhance the status of this activity through their stupid "educational campaign." Rates right up there with Nancy Reagan's "Just say no." No Eagle sponsor will be supported by me nor will the Eagles. jf”

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16. Bethsoda said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 01:48PM

“Great article - I also had no idea that dog fighting actually INCREASED since the Michael Vick conviction. It's disgusting. I think they other important thing to remember is that in general, people who are abusive towards animals are much more likely to be abusive to humans as well, particularly when it starts young.”

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17. Walker said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 02:20PM

“Great article.

It's too bad that Joe Banner, Jeff Lurie and the Eagles Coaching staff couldn't have read something like this prior to signing Vick. Maybe it could have changed their minds about hiring him.

Kudos to the staff of the PSPCA, Humane Law Enforcement Officers and Barbara Paul for attempting to take a stand against this subhuman activity. Maybe more needs to be publicized about the links between other illegal activities and dog fighting to try and sway public opinion about it being a victimless crime.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 03:09PM

“The ironic thing is this article probably never would have been printed or at least given such a prominent presence if Vick had not been signed to the Eagles. Even if you are disgusted by the decision at least it's casting light on the dogfighting that has been ignored in our own backyards for so long.”

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19. Nick said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 03:48PM

“Hopefully this is the start of tougher sentences for people who fight and severely abuse animals. As with Clark, the dogfighting is indicative of the type of person he is. Clark is not someone I'd want in my neighborhood, let alone my city. I thank Judge Gordon for this sentence because with it, he just made the city an incrementally better place for most citizens and hope other judges will begin following suit.”

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20. Jolena17 said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 04:51PM

“Hide your beagle, Vick's an Eagle

Hmmmm.... "statue" for "statute", "where as" for "whereas"--doesn't this paper have a freaking EDITOR who knows English? 'Cause it ain't got a reporter who can finesse such details...”

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21. jabberwoki said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 04:59PM

“Thanks for shedding light on a terrible problem. Now if we could only get a bunch of Pit Bulls to chomp off the b a l l s of these idiots....”

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22. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 05:05PM

“Could this story HAVE more typos?”

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23. Kliff said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 05:31PM

“I just posted this article to my facebook account for anyone who still don't understand why Vick shouldn't have be allowed back into the NFL, especially Philadelphia. Keep spreading the word, people!”

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24. Robin said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 06:26PM

“It is a sad day when we are willing to let sadistic monsters be icons for our children.
Thank you judge Gordon!
We need to make it loud and clear as a city that we are absolutely unwilling to accept dog fighting - this is a violent horrible crime that only breeds more violence and criminal activity around it. This is a no brainer - should not be tolerated. Please tell the Eagles to get Mike Vick out of our city.”

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25. pit bull fan said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 06:48AM

“Thank you to ADA Barbara Paul and the PSPCA officers for all their hard work. I wish more cases ended this way--with serious jail time. These sadistic individuals don't view animals as worthy of humane treatment. Thanks to PW for bringing it to light.

That said, how about editing your story before you publish it?”

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26. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 08:06AM

“Great article, I've posted on facebook and emailed to friends and family. Something has got to change in Philadelphia. I had a ticket to tonights Eagles game and just can't be there for Vick's start, it makes me sick.”

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27. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 08:50AM

“I'm curious where the Dogfighting Statue IS currently, and think it would be really make a statement if they moved it down to the football stadium where Vick has to see it every time he drives up. It'd be like when they moved Rocky down to the Spectrum!”

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28. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 10:46AM

“Animal cruelty is often an indicator of abuse in the home and the Humane Law Enforcement Officers of the PSPCA are well aware of this connection. Unfortunately, the agencies in City government dealing with domestic violence and child abuse are so overburdened that there are few, if any, resources available to assist in identifying and making this connection. If we were able to do this in the early stages, I think we'd eventually see a decline in the number of animal cruelty cases.

We need to attach action to our outrage.”

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29. jbozak said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 01:29PM

“Great article, Mike.”

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30. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 01:57PM

“Excellent article -- although disturbing to read as is anything related to animal cruelty. I do hope this is the begining of the law coming down hard on dog fighters. I also hope that the need for humane education programs in all our public schools is addressed. There is so little respect for life, so little compassion ... makes me very sad and distressed. A lot of the general public, i.e., Joe Smoe taxpayer, with a sweet wife, two.3 cute kids and that little beagle has no idea about this atrocity of dogfighting. They are barely begining to understand what a puppy mill is about.”

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31. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2009 at 06:35PM

“It boggles the mind what human beings are capable of. If you debase animals like this you debase yourself and your own humanity. The Eagles have brought nothing but shame down on their organization and their city for employing somebody like Vick. May you reap what you sow.”

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32. JFK said... on Aug 28, 2009 at 08:52AM

“The price the Eagles will pay to win a championship. Shame.
Thanks to Prosecutor Barbara Paul and Officer Loller for their passion and commitment to this growing problem. We need more people like them.”

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33. CN said... on Aug 28, 2009 at 01:29PM

“Clark, as his lawyer pointed out, may be human, but he has lost his humanity. Lawyers may argue that they're "just dogs," but that's beside the point. Dogfighting exposes a serious mental flaw in the minds of those who engage in it. These violent, even sociopathic, individuals are not people I want roaming the streets of my city.”

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34. Hugh Jardon said... on Aug 28, 2009 at 02:45PM

“This article was very well articulated and straight to the point, sadly though it sounds as if the court system just passes the problem along and doesn't see the need to find these dog murdering animals guilty of anything more than a nuisance crime.
This countries legal holdings with dog fighting are a joke at best, add in that the people of Foolidelphia have a new folk hero, well it just goes to show how low our society has sunk. No one answers to anything anymore, the Liberal left has made it clear that anything you argue about is either racist or un-American (Pelosi) to bad! Dog murdering isn't about race, it's about the lack of intelligence and pure grotesque selfish greed. Shame on you for supporting a person with morals as low as Vick, you people deserve him 100%”

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35. AP said... on Aug 28, 2009 at 02:54PM

“Very good highlight. Thank you.
I think we need to change our way of thinking. Vicks presence in this town just might be a good thing for our cause. I am a long time pitbull owner, advocate, and lover, and was disgusted by the Eagle's decision to bring on Vick. But lets try to find the silver lining. Look at all the attention Vick is bringing to the underground dog fighting rings. Look how many supporters the PSPCA has gained. People who don't even own dogs, let alone pitbulls are appalled and speaking out. Let's honor the memory of Vick's dogs, and use this B*stard to bring awareness and harsher sentences to dog fighting offenders. Lets not let Vick's dogs die in vain.

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36. Chris C said... on Aug 28, 2009 at 08:19PM

“This is the best animal welfare article I have ever read in Philadelphia Weekly. As a long time supporter of this cause I really appreciate an article that takes the issues seriously. It's easy to bang out the same tired cliches that stir up animosity essentially reducing credibility of the entire animal welfare movement. Much more difficult to write a poignant and timely portrayal of a sensitive situation. I have a new appreciation for the Pennsylvania SPCA and the work that they are doing and the challenges they are facing.”

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37. RGrey said... on Aug 29, 2009 at 05:59PM

“I think it's important to note that all the work that the Pennsylvania SPCA does is donor-funded. Including dog-fighting investigation. The more support they get, the more they can do....


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38. Anonymous said... on Aug 30, 2009 at 06:28PM

“Vick, second change should be pumping gas , not making 10 million dollar being a hero to impressionable children. I didn't mean to insult gas attendent.”

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39. Anonymous said... on Aug 31, 2009 at 11:31AM

“That was an excellent article. Kudos to PW and to Mike Newell for focusing on the dog-fighting underground right here in Philadelphia. And by outlining so many cases and by talking to the law enforcement folks who fight this on the front line every day, you justified all of the points you made. Great work. This is one to submit for a journalism prize because it was such a public service. And for those of us who have strong opinions about Michael Vick, it gave us facts to back those opinions up. Who knows? You might have changed a few minds. WTG”

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40. SouthPhillyJ said... on Aug 31, 2009 at 12:20PM

“We should start dealing with these pitbull fighters the way they deal with the dogs!”

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41. Anonymous said... on Sep 1, 2009 at 07:20PM

“Please don't forget the other innocent victims, small "bait" animals like stray cats who are ripped apart ALIVE by the dogs as part of their training.

Please tell their "story" as well!. Their lives count too!”

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42. The Avenger said... on Sep 3, 2009 at 07:38AM

“That anyone could even consider dogfighting as acceptable is utterly beyond comprehension. I would characterize this insufferable, dysfunctional individual as an ethical excrescence, not to be tolerated by anyone. Unfortunately, there is nothing within the letter of the law, at least at this point, that would be commensurate with the crime. In my opinion anyone convicted for this should be neutered in public without anesthesia, water boarded and then hanged, slowly, with piano wire. Oh, and by all means let's encourage the executed's acolytes and toadies to watch with a cattle prod, if necessary. This should appeal to their sadistic minds, although I’m uncertain as to whether they possess a mind of not.”

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43. Gianna said... on Sep 3, 2009 at 03:24PM

“i am outraged by michael vick.why would you make dogs fight? would he like it if we fed him to the dogs?! never will i ever watch another eagles game again, unless he gets kicked off the team.. btw BOYCOTT THE PENROSE DINER =]”

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44. anonymous lawyer said... on Sep 6, 2009 at 10:28AM

“we need this prosecutor to provide the info. how judges who come up for election decide animal cruelty cases so we can vote them out of office; we have no need for judges that do not enforce the law!”

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45. Callie said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:43AM

“I want to know what Michael Vick has done for animals since he has been released from prison. I have never heard him say that he is sorry for the pain he caused those innocent animals. He is sorry he was caught. I don't think he should have ever been allowed to play pro ball until he performed the work he was supposed to do for animals. I'm no longer a Philadelphia Eagles fan.”

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46. mik008 said... on Dec 27, 2009 at 02:18PM

“AP;wright on i agree 100% i have a bumper sticker that says" punish the deed not the breed",and that makes all the sence in the worold to me,PIT BULLS are one of the most gental,loving breeds of canine that there is,at least untill man gets a hold of them and alters them horribly.”

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47. Lauren, San Diego said... on Dec 31, 2009 at 01:49PM

“Its disgusts me that Vick was re-signed. The message this has sent to the confused public about dogfighting is disgusting. No football player should be worth that. There are tons of talented guys out there that are waiting to take Vick's job and who have morality.The NFL needs to get some ethics in place and be held responsible for the message they send. And I am pro tougher punishment for these crimes. Higher fines is harder than jail time for lots of these criminals. Lets take the money they made, and then some, out of exploiting these dogs.”


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