This “sport” is disgusting and so cruel that it makes my blood boil just thinking about it. However, rather than ignore that dogfighting does occur, I decided to research it, so that those interested in the breed can truly know what some vile criminals will do with their dogs and help stop this horrendous act.
Who is involved?
A promoter makes all the arrangements and often owns the location. He controls admission fees, vendors, alcohol sales, gambling, and either monitors police scanners or hires guards to prohibit legal intervention.
Handlers are responsible for the dogs and other than the referee are the only ones allowed in the pit. The referee is one who knows all the rules of dog fighting and is paid (sometimes >$500/day) to officiate. Spectators are motivated either to gamble, enter an animal, or to be entertained. Often children accompany parents.
Are there levels of dog fighters?
Yes, there are 3 kinds of dogfighters that authorities have labeled. Serious or professional fighters breed, train, and fight their own dogs. Many operate on a national or international level, and often appear in underground magazine publications regularly. They know about police and Humane Society investigation techniques.
They gamble large sums of money and use dogs from established fighting lines. Hobbyists are people in the community who enjoy the gambling aspect more than the bloodlines. They will get dogs at shelters and newspapers and with no training, will enter them into a match. Street fighters are often gang members in inner cities that own pits as status symbols. They are often stolen or bought cheaply. Impromptu matches can occur anywhere as a way to increase the desired image within a neighborhood. These are hard to apprehend because participants can readily disperse when the police are spotted.
How did dogfighting get started?
After bullbaiting was outlawed in England in 1835, dogfights became popular. The poorer classes used this as a form of entertainment in the Staffordshire mining areas. Pits were dug near mines. The sport grew in popularity to the point that nobility often arranged a match to impress visiting royals. As more people became involved, dogs that were smaller and faster were bred.
Bulldogs were bred with a now extinct terrier breed to create the Bull and Terrier dogs. These dogs eventually became the Staffies, where others went with their families to the United States. Dogfighting remained popular with Americans as well. Here they became known as the pit dog, the pit bull terrier, American bull terrier, or the Yankee terrier. In the 1800’s, dogs were even imported from England if they had fighting bloodlines.
Dogfighting started to fall out of favor with a growing class of people that valued the dogs as show animals and those that respected them as working, family dogs. Today it has taken on a new spin because many people own pit bulls now, and puppies are everywhere… and cheap. In urban areas, pit bulls are extremely common sights; untrained, unsocialized, neglected, and abused, these dogs end up in the paper having attacked someone. Now it’s not only dogfighting but perception of the public that is killing the breed.
Dogfighting was a very popular sport in both Europe and the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Why do people fight dogs? The most basic reason is… $$$money. No matter what level dogfighter you are talking about, it all comes down to money. It’s a source of entertainment that combines violence with the risk of being caught, and the alluring draw of gambling. The draw of dogfighting to most fighters is that it is so simple to just get a puppy or a stray pit bull, especially in urban environments. The only things provided to the dog are basic food and water.
Often they are chained outside, never see a vet or are altered, get bred constantly to produce as many puppies as possible, and fought whenever and wherever. After the fight, if the dog is hurt or didn’t perform, the owner can just leave him/her for dead and get another dog easily. Many of these people are men between 15-30 years of age that come from lower class upbringing. Often those that fight dogs live a life of crime and drugs as well. They grew up with little value of the life of other humans and their dogs are no different. It’s absolutely disgusting the level of inhumanity these people show. But that is the way it is.
Some of the more organized breeders/fighters claim that they are keeping fighting bloodlines alive, and that it is a sport, but these dogs don’t want to die or be seriously injured repeatedly. They do it because they were trained by their owners this way. Even though dogfighting is illegal in all states, people will still do it as long as there are others doing it because of the simple draw of making a few bucks.
How do they get the dogs to fight?
Most dogfighters who just get into it to make fast cash, simply get a puppy from someone or steal one, or even adopt from shelters. There is no training involved. They simply throw the dog in a pit and hope that some instincts will kick in to make it a fight. Many pit bulls nowadays have been bred for many generations with good-tempered pits, so that when they get into the pit, they give up, or hide, succumbing to the onslaught of an experienced dog, or the backlash of an upset owner. If he/she was not a good fighter, the dog is killed, abandoned, or left for dead, and another one is always available to take its place.
As horrible as dogfigting is for the pit bulls involved, when you hear this, you may be ready to become an activist. Many dogfighters need “bait”
What happens to dogs after the fight?
There are basically 3 results of a dogfight for the dog. One, is the dog wins, the owner is happy, and the dog lives for another day. For the best fighters, the money won will usually get the dog some home-care of his/her wounds, maybe some good food that night, but the only guarantee is to live another day.
Second, the dog may be killed or die from wounds inflicted during the fight. Many receive so many puncture wounds that they suffer massive muscle damage and hemorrhaging. It is often not noticeable to the owners that any major internal damage has been done. It is common for dogs to have tails, ears, jaws and even legs ripped off during a fight.
Due to massive injuries, some owners leave the dog to die a miserable death. In other cases, if the dog does not show the desire to fight, or loses, the owner kills the dog in the most vicious and disgusting manners.
There are numerous eye-witness accounts of dogs being lit on fire, some are beaten in the head with a baseball bat, some are run over with cars, some are shot, some are dragged behind cars, and others are thrown in dumpsters alive.
Third, a Humane organization will raid a fight in progress or be tipped off on animal cruelty of a dogfighting owner and seize the dogs. This is the dog’s only chance at a better life. Most dogs that have been fighters will be euthanized due to either massive injuries, aggressive behavior towards people, or due to the policy of the organization.
Many shelters do not adopt out pit bulls at all. Many, will not adopt out former fighters at all. It sounds horrible, but even myself, as a lover of the breed, realize that “saving” these dogs does not help the breed overall. There are tons of pits that come into shelters that may have had bad starts, but were not fighters. These are the ones that can become great pets.
Former fighters don’t know any better and rather than take the chance that something may happen with the dog, it’s just the best solution at this point for these dogs that have suffered so much. It’s sad because it is not the dog’s fault. They do what their owners want them to do, but unfortunately, they are the ones that suffer.
What happens to the fighting dogs that are seized by the Humane Society?
Sadly, it is not always what animal-lovers want to hear. Because the owners are the ones that will be prosecuted for dogfighting, the dogs often sit in shelters for months, and sometimes years, awaiting the outcome of the trial. In some easier cases, the owners will sign over the dogs right away, allowing the local animal shelter to determine the next stage of evaluation for the dogs.
A personal experience I had with this was when I worked at a large Humane Society in upstate NY. The Cruelty Investigators raided a home that had at least 30 pit bulls on the premises for the intent of fighting. Most were scarred all over, but friendly to people. They were kept chained outside to large barrels as doghouses. The house was filled with home veterinary care supplies.
This “normal” family (with young kids and the mother was a nurse) ran one of the largest rings of pit fighters, having a few of their dogs on the cover of an underground pit fighting magazine as champions. The saddest was the 2 litters of puppies that were barely weaned from their mothers. Gorgeous red colored ones and black ones. For months, these puppies grew up at the shelter, kept in the back with bolt locks on their kennel doors. We tried to keep them stimulated, getting them out an hour each day, but we knew it was all in vain. We knew what the outcome would be.
Many staff members wanted to put the puppies up for adoption, but once they became 3-4 months old, we realized how naive’ that was when they started fighting each other. Not in play, but serious fighting! We had to separate them into pairs, then eventually into individuals because they were bored and trying to kill each other. All the dogs remained in limbo for months while the trial went on. The most appalling of this scenario is that the family actually came to the shelter to try and see their dogs, stating how they were family members and were crushed that they were taken from them. The end result for the dogs was obvious.
Even though dogfighting is illegal, the ramifications for such involvement seems so lax, especially for a family so deeply immersed in the violence. While the pit bulls are at shelter facilities, they often experience extreme boredom which can present itself in many ways. Pit bulls are very active, easily frustrated dogs. When taken from an environment with such high stimulation, to one where they are often isolated and in bare kennels, they tend to act out. It’s not uncommon to see pits spinning in the kennel, jumping or climbing the walls, barking at everything, destroying bedding or food/water bowls, and often increasing their arousal level to the point that they may pose a threat to themselves, staff, and members of the public.
Because the end result for these dogs is usually the same, many facilities do not feel it is important to prevent mental breakdown of these dogs. For those who love animals, you may see that it is worthwhile to provide as comfortable a life as possible for these dogs in their last months. Kongs, daily walks, ice filled with kibble, music, springpoles, and just attention often keeps these dogs sane. The end result is usually euthanasia for dogs proven to be pit fighters. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare for cruelty investigators to come upon a fight in progress, so they must charge people with other forms of cruelty that often don’t hold up as charges. Investigators cannot seize a dog even if it’s obviously been a fighter unless they have proof, such as witnesses or seeing a fight in progress.
And because “animal cruelty” is defined in such a way that if a dog has food, shelter, and water, it is not cruelty, even if the dogs are scarred up, chained to a bare doghouse with a tub of food, there is nothing they can do legally.
Why can’t former fighting dogs be rehabilitated and adopted out?
For the average animal-lover, it is hard to understand why animal organizations do NOT adopt out former pit fighters. The gut reaction is disgust at what a person put their dog(s) through, and the inherent need to try and “save” the dog; to provide a better life. But as noble as this may seem, it is not realistic. Animal shelters cannot risk the chance that a former fighter may snap one day. The public relations disaster alone would cause serious consequences for the breed and the organization.
At a time when pit bulls need a good reputation, shelters cannot take that chance in adopting out dogs that have been mentally and physically abused to become trained killers. Because many owners of fighting pit bulls crop their ears and dock their tails (so as not to be torn off during fights), it makes it very difficult to read the behavior of these dogs.
Many breeds that most commonly show aggression towards people show signs and expressions of warning before an actual attack. Many of these are related to the ear position and tail. With pit bulls who have been trained and bred not to give away signs of their behavior, the lack of these extremities to gauge it by makes it very difficult. Often, pit bulls who were fighters show no signs and the attacks are often very serious because they were trained to kill. As sad as this may sound to animal-lovers, the end result for these dogs hits hardest with those that care for them for the months/years that they spend at shelters.
Often, the dogs thrive at shelters – getting medical treatment, gaining weight, becoming more socialized. Many staff members are tortured by their love for individual dogs that they have formed relationships with. But most realize that, for now, this is the best option. It is still one of the most emotionally stressful topics I’ve had to deal with in the animal care field.
How to FIGHT dogfighting?
Because dogfighting is an illegal underground community activity, to most people, you may not think it even exists anymore since it’s not obvious. But not only is the “sport” increasing in popularity, but more and more youth are getting involved. Even in rural communities, dogfighting is prominent. In cities, make-shift fights are as common as gang violence.
Below I’ve listed some ways that you can combat this horrible occurrence…
1. Educate in schools – Organize a Humane Society club, whether you’re a parent, teacher, or student. Your local humane society would love the exposure and would surely help you get started. – Call your local shelter to see about bringing dogs (pit bulls) into the schools for educational purposes.
That way they can see a pit bull up close to form their own opinions. Also, it’s good to learn about basic dog care, pet therapy, and obedience classes, as well as local animal issues. – Have a contest for kids. Coordinate with your local shelter to promote being kind to animals. Have kids draw posters, or write essays, or make presentations that could be aired on tv, radio, or nationally.
2. Educate at home – I find this one extremely important. Many kids fall into gangs, violence, and drugs because their brother, father, or friends do it. Peer pressure is monumental! Many dogfighters bring their kids along, or tell kids how much money you can make. And how cool it is to strut around town with a macho dog.
3. Get a Spokesperson – Many dogfighters are not paying attention to posters and other propaganda from animal organizations on how to treat their dogs, when they themselves are immersed in poverty and violence. A good way to combat this is to hire someone to do a campaign, someone respected by all races, sexes, and financial standing. In Virginia, NBA player, Johnny Newman did a campaign for the Danville-area Humane Society.
4. Be shocking! – As an employee in the Animal Care field, I have tons of shocking stories that would make even the most stoic person cringe. Write letters to the editors of papers, call the newspaper, go to public meetings to detail horrific stories of dogfighting.
When people see the dogs as the victims, they become enraged and push the police, public officials, and other organizations to make some changes. This exposure is definitely helpful in the long-run, opening up people’s eyes to the atrocities that they may not have had personal connection to. Granted, the stories of fighting pit bulls that attack people are not as helpful for the breed, at least it makes the situation public and can lead to more understanding that the owners need to be blamed, not the dogs.
5. Pursue more strict punishment for dogfighting – Although dogfighting is illegal in all states, the punishment for the people involved is far less severe than that for the dogs. You can write letters to your local politicians, to senators, to the federal government, and even the President about how dogfighting needs to be considered a serious crime.
6. Be on the lookout! – If you live in a community that has a lot of pit bulls at the local shelter, you are probably in an area where dogfighting is prevalent. If you see any signs of dogfighting (such as scars on dogs, frequent injuries to a dog, someone who has numerous pit bulls kept in poor conditions, veterinary supplies, dogfighting paraphernalia) or hear anyone speaking suspiciously about their dogs, contact the police and your local Humane Society. Don’t try and intervene because that will tip them off.
7. Support and donate to your local animal shelter – If you know of a case where numerous pit bulls were seized, take supplies or toys to your shelter. Sturdy toys, blankets, and even just money can help these dogs, and the shelter, house them properly.
8. Start a reward system – Torturous tails of dogfighting is enough to stir up a lot of emotion in the general public. Individuals, and humane organizations, can use this to their benefit. Using the media can depict the cruelty many of these dogs and “bait” animals have to endure and die for. It’s amazing how much money can be raised if you tug on some heart strings.
A fund can be started specifically to provide rewards to those knowing anything about dogfighting in the area, from tips, to actual names of people participating. This has been incredibly successful in many areas. At the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County at Lollypop Farm, postcards were sent out to every inhabitant in the city asking for information on dogfighting and offering a reward. Numerous calls came in and although it didn’t eradicate dogfighting, the monetary incentive was enough to uncover many fighting situations.