Dogfighting in America

Escrito por HSUS.

www.hsus.org/acf/news/dogfighting_national_epidemic_1.html
From cities to suburbia to the heartland, dogfighting is widespread in the U.S. The HSUS reveals the bloodsport's roots and biology in this 3-part series.
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Dogfighting in America

From cities to suburbia to the heartland, dogfighting is widespread in the U.S. The HSUS reveals the bloodsport's roots and biology in this 3-part series. Part 1: The Dogs»


A Nation in the Ring (Part 1: The Dogs and the Territory)

September 7, 2007

 ©Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Humane agent Jennifer Kulina cradles Rita in her lap.



By Nancy Lawson

Oblivious to the oozing abscess beneath her eye, Rita leaps across the sofa and gnaws the arm of a chair  before plopping onto Jennifer Kulina's lap for a belly rub.

"How could you ever fight this dog?" Kulina asks, recalling the blood that once flowed from the brown pit bull's chin.

A humane agent at the Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus, Ohio, Kulina filed five counts of animal cruelty against Rita's owner on July 17, the same day Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on felony dogfighting charges.

A table at Kulina's shelter bears evidence from Rita's case and many others—heavy logging chains used as leashes and tethers, certificates listing champion bloodlines, a "keep journal" detailing treadmill regimens and fight statistics and a calendar recording breeding dogs' heat cycles.

Dogfighting: A National Epidemic

1. The Dogs and the Territory
2. The Costs of Dogfighting
3. Pit Bulls as Currency

"They have no voice," says Kulina of the pit bulls in her community. "I have a chance to be a voice for them....It's scary, but it's an honor."

Suiting up in a bulletproof vest, Kulina prowls the back alleys and mean streets in search of animals in distress. Many are pit bulls with chewed-up faces, fighting scars and open wounds.

Some she can help, and for some, it's too late. 

Dogfighting Territory

Central Ohio seems an unlikely hotbed of dogfighting. Home to the country's largest college campus, Ohio State University, Columbus has fewer than 800,000 residents. Its compact homes with A-frame roofs are typical of a small Midwestern town. But since 2002, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office has served more than 40 dogfighting-related search warrants and secured more than 50 convictions.

Pick a spot anywhere in the United States and you'll find a similar story: if you're not in dogfighting territory, you're not far from it. While Kulina was nursing Rita's wounds, Oregon prosecutors prepared an 11-count indictment of a suspected Portland dogfighter. Police in Florida seized drugs, fighting paraphernalia and 32 dogs from a Tallahassee property. An animal control officer in Nebraska interrupted a pit-bull street fight staged by teenage boys.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Though the Vick case has thrust dogfighting into the national spotlight and the conscience of a horrified public, it isn't a new phenomenon. Once a clandestine activity confined to rural areas of the South, it has migrated into the inner cities after being embraced as a macho symbol of the urban hip-hop culture.

While some 40,000 people participate in organized rings with high-stakes betting, The HSUS estimates that at least another 100,000 fight dogs informally for the chance to win a few bucks and bragging rights.

 

A Nation in the Ring (Part 2: The Costs of Dogfighting)

September 7, 2007

 

 

©Michelle Riley/The HSUS
Franklin County spent more than $500,000 since 2002 to house this scarred dog and others seized from dogfighters.

By Nancy Lawson

From Part 1 of the series: While some 40,000 people participate in organized rings with high-stakes betting, The HSUS estimates that at least another 100,000 people fight dogs informally for the chance to win a few bucks and bragging rights.

For animal shelters, the consequences are staggering. Nationwide, pit bulls and pit bull mixes comprise up to a third of dog intake; in city facilities, that figure can be as high as 70 percent.

Although most animal welfare organizations agree that euthanasia is the safest and most humane option for dogs bred and raised to fight, many shelters must hold them for months until owners lose legal custody.

Doing so safely and humanely comes at a high price: Last year, the Houston Humane Society in Texas spent $133,000 to care for pit bulls seized from a single property. Taxpayers in Franklin County have footed a nearly $520,000 bill to house dogfighting victims since 2002. And the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center in nearby Dayton has spent $120,000 on dogs seized in 2006.

 

Dogfighting: A National Epidemic

1. The Dogs and the Territory
2. The Costs of Dogfighting
3. Pit Bulls as Currency

A year later, 36 of those dogs—along with 10 more from a neighboring shelter stretched to capacity—still fill a third of the kennels in Dayton.

"Welcome to the other side of the world," says director Mark Kumpf as he enters the pit-bull housing area. Vinyl window coverings thwart dogfighters searching for their own confiscated dogs or new prospects to adopt. Vision-restriction panels adorn kennels to prevent next-door neighbors from attacking each other. Hard plastic beds are frayed like the yarn of a scarf, and a wire that once operated a door pulley has been gnawed in two.

Costly Care

"We had to go back and re-engineer our housing because the dogs were able to literally pull apart the cages," Kumpf says. "They were able to get through the stainless steel guillotine doors because the doors were not large enough and heavy enough to prevent it. They were able to fence-fight by jumping four-plus feet in the air to fight with the dog on the other side of the bars...They eat the resting mats, they eat the fiberglass panels, they eat the water bowls off the wall."

 

Help The HSUS Fight Back

Donate today to our Animal Cruelty Response and Reward Fund.

Compounding the financial burden are expenses for 24-hour security, overtime and loss of labor due to injuries. "I have witnessed...the friendliest dog in there actually turn around and attack two employees," says Elizabeth Loikoc, a crew leader for the shelter's animal care providers. One employee, she reports, was bitten repeatedly.

Before the conclusion of its 2006 cases, Montgomery County will spend more than $300,000, Kumpf predicts. The emotional toll can be just as costly, he says: "More often than not, the dogs end up being euthanized by the very same people who have dedicated a year or more of their lives to taking care of them."

"Treading New Ground"

Atop Kumpf's desk sits a copy of the "The Final Round," an HSUS video used to educate prosecutors, judges, and police about dogfighting. Nationwide, HSUS experts train thousands of law enforcement personnel, advocate for stronger laws and penalties, and assist local, state and federal investigators.

"A lot of what we do, we’re treading new ground," says Jim Conlan of Chicago’s recently expanded Animal Crimes Unit, which works closely with The HSUS. Dogfighters know no boundaries—as Conlan says, "it is international, it is interracial, it is intereconomic"—so police need to form networks of their own to catch them.

 

A Nation in the Ring (Part 3: Pit Bulls as Currency)

September 7, 2007

 

 

©Michelle Riley/The HSUS
Leslie Harris and The HSUS's Ann Chynoweth greet a puppy rescued by violence interrupter Antonio Pickett.

By Nancy Lawson

From Part 2 of the series: Dogfighters know no boundaries—as Conlan says, "it is international, it is interracial, it is intereconomic"—so police need to form networks of their own to catch them.

While professional fighters in organized rings enjoy middle class lifestyles and gamble thousands of dollars on their animals, streetfighters often grow up in a world of poverty, guns and drugs. Role models are few, save the gang members whose dogfighting activities are glorified by hip-hop artists like Jay-Z and DMX.

Under such dire circumstances, many children don't envision living past their 20s, says Elliott Serrano, a community outreach specialist for the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. One participant in Serrano's anti-dogfighting workshop at a youth correctional facility was killed by a gang member the day he was released on parole.

"You're talking about kids who have very few options in life," says Serrano. "They don't know that there's something beyond this. They are being brought up in an environment where they can be killed any time."

 

Dogfighting: A National Epidemic

1. The Dogs and the Territory
2. The Costs of Dogfighting
3. Pit Bulls as Currency

An Anti-Cruelty Society survey found that one in five children in Chicago has seen a dogfight. Other estimates put that number at four out of five. The figures seem impossibly high—until you see battle-scarred pit bulls cruising the streets at the heels of 10-year-old boys.

Pit bulls are a kind of currency in the dogfighting world, their value assessed by how much cash their jaws or genes will earn. Peddling puppies can prove as lucrative as dealing drugs; one Ohio dogfighter traded selling cocaine for breeding pit bulls, recalls Franklin County deputy dog warden Rob Lambert, because the profits were higher. A symbol of strength and status, the dogs become accessories, forced to wear heavy chains because, as one young Columbus man with a scarred pit bull puts it, "it's the kind of collar you would put on a bully dog. It looks good."

It's an attitude Antonio Pickett knows well. Recently hired by HSUS consultant and community advocate Tio Hardiman, Pickett grew up on Chicago's northwest side and once had his own share of troubles with the law. Working as a "violence interrupter" who tries to wean kids away from dogfighting, he has already piqued children's interests in dog behavior training and other humane alternatives to fighting. "They [need] something else to do with their dogs..." Pickett says. "They're always asking, 'When are you going to bring the trainer?' "

Stopping the Violence

Working with police and ministers, the Dog Advisory Working Group (D.A.W.G.) is providing an answer to that question, holding sessions that teach kids about humane treatment and demonstrate dog agility. Initially scared, children clamor to pet the dogs by session's end, says Cynthia Bathurst, executive director and court advocacy chair of the Chicago nonprofit.

 

Help The HSUS Fight Back

Donate today to our Animal Cruelty Response and Reward Fund.

Ending dogfighting requires not just strong penalties but social remedies. In a nation of haves and have-nots where Americans spend billions each year on their pets, many children languish in the streets without help or hope. Pit bulls represent status, style and instant gratification. It is too easy to look away, but humane officers, police, community activists and organizations like The HSUS are confronting the problem head-on.

"This is about stopping the violence," says Bathurst. "When you understand how all of this violence is interconnected and how it has to do with respect in some ways for oneself and for other living beings, then you can get the whole community engaged."