Fatal Fights – Dogs On The Underground Circuit

Gypsy is found stumbling along Gaston County’s main highway in North Carolina. Her right front leg is shredded. Flesh falls from her face, exposing teeth and gums in a perpetual bite. But the battered pit bull can no longer bite anyone. Her lips and nose have dissolved into pus.

This dog with no face is a familiar sight to Tri-County Animal Rescue staff who admit her in April 2005. She is dogfighter’s garbage. Her moneymaking days are over.

Months later, three boys meet at a levy in Algiers, Louisiana. Their pit
bulls still display “gameness,” the battle-till-death vigor dogfighters
covet. The boys, ages 9 to 14, face two dogs nose to nose and release them.

One sinks razor-sharp teeth into the other’s throat and savagely shakes his head. Blood sprays as the losing dog howls. The boys jab both dogs and cheer them on.

A hundred yards away, Jeff Dorson crouches in the shadows. The founder and executive director of Humane Society of Louisiana simultaneously flips on his video camera and dials 911. But the police never show. After 15 minutes, the boys yank their limping dogs away on heavy chains.

Though dogfighting is outlawed in 50 states and a felony in 47, American Pit
Bull Terriers and other “pit bull” breeds are raised to compete on the
underground circuit. Dogfighting statutes in 46 states forbid possession of
fighting dogs and 48 states ban presence at matches.

Dogfighters convene in empty homes, garages and warehouses or remote parks and barns to play their dogs in makeshift arenas hemmed in plywood walls.

“Dogmen” compete nationwide, attracting fans who bet as high as $10,000 to $50,000 on dogs honed in “hard bite, athleticism and gameness,” reporter Eileen Loh-Harrist writes in “Fight Clubs” for the Gambit Weekly in New Orleans (2001). “Professional dogmen are akin to the Mafia, bestowing to the illicit activity a set of generally accepted rules.”

During matches that last two or more hours, dogs paired by weight are situated behind “scratch lines” etched on either side of a soft-surface pit. A referee orders each handler to “face your dog.” Upon the “let go” command, dogs are freed to attack until one turns his head and shoulders away from his rival.

Trainers then line them up for a repeat encounter. The dog who turned gets 10 seconds to cross the line and clamp down on his opponent (a scratch). “The match continues this way,” Loh-Harrist explains, “ending when one dog is too injured or unwilling to continue, jumps the pit, or is killed.”

Unlike career dogmen, hobbyists rarely vie beyond the local level. But they do adhere to the precepts of a refereed brawl. Street fighters ignore rules and bloodlines, preferring the big fierce dogs symbolic of gang culture. Many are restless kids drawn to the thrill of an illegal blood sport.

Jeff Dorson knows them all. For the past 18 years, he’s done the
sitting-on-the-porch-drinking-lemonade thing with scores of dogfighters. He logs their war stories as evidence for law enforcers.

In 1987, PETA hired the Midwest native to spearhead a campaign for monkeys removed from a Silver Spring, MD research laboratory after the conviction of psychologist Edward Taub on animal cruelty charges. At that time, the Silver Spring Monkeys were held at Tulane University in Louisiana.

After PETA’s contract expired, Dorson formed League in Support of Animals (LISA) to lobby for stronger animal protection laws and track cruelty cases in the field. LISA evolved to Humane Society of Louisiana with a dual mission to enforce state laws and rehabilitate/adopt abandoned animals.

Dorson’s focus shifted to dogfighting the longer he lived in Louisiana, a state revered for its champion bloodlines and prolific fight circles. The Boudreaux dynasty, whose prized pups netted up to $10,000 a head, ruled for half a century — even hosting hometown festivals with rural law officers in attendance. But the homage ended when state and federal agents raided their Broussard, Louisiana property in March 2005, arresting “dogfighting don”

Floyd and his son Guy for animal cruelty, illegal possession of steroids and a sawed-off shotgun, and 64 counts of dogfighting. The district attorney’s office began prosecution in the case this year.

At least there is a case. Until recently “two bloody pit bulls were never
high on police radar,” Dorson contends. “Even with detailed documentation, New Orleans police simply call Animal Control to come euthanize the dogs.”

Animal fighting arrests are tricky. Most police departments don’t have the resources or know-how to nail dogfighters at the scene. By the time they take action, the match has disbanded.

But in late 2004, Louisiana State Police arrested over 125 dogfighters and seized 680 dogs in 16 months. Dorson credits the dramatic spike to new Superintendent Henry L. Whitehorn’s willingness to employ a preemptive-strike approach: Officers talk to alleged dogfighters, tape the transaction, acquire a search warrant, and return to book them.

Acting upon Dorson’s addresses and descriptions, an initial sting landed three criminals, 10 dogs, weapons and narcotics. “[Since then] state police have dismantled enormous dogfighting structures throughout Louisiana. Today they function like a military Special Ops unit, totally informed about dogfighting and prepared to move quickly,” Dorson says.

Once cops know what to look for, a dogfighter’s autograph is unmistakable. In between fights, dogs are tethered on thick logging chains in backyards cluttered in feces, ant-infested kibble and rusty wail pails. A few rickety structures offer limited shelter. Dogfighters live by the credo: The meaner you treat a dog, the meaner he’ll perform in the ring.

Dog compounds are outfitted with restraining tables, treadmills, and wooden ramps. Serious trainers follow a hard-line regimen of forced daily runs, hand-walks, and treadmill exercises to pump dogs from chain weight to fight weight. Dogs are fed steroids and hormones typically acquired on the black market. “These guys aren’t real bright,” Dorson concedes. “Sometimes they mix gunpowder in dog food, assuming it will give their dogs explosive energy.”

Most use “bait” animals to arouse aggression. Cats, rabbits, small dogs, or chickens are strung to a pole and twirled like toys until the dog fatally mauls them. Sometimes a caged chicken or rabbit is placed in front of a dog on a treadmill as incentive to chase. For a practice fight, or “roll,” trainers mismatch a submissive animal with an aggressor. “No bait animal survives training,” Dorson says.

Dogfighters commonly steal companion animals to use for bait, as the Pima County Sheriff’s Department learned after years of unearthing the gnawed remains of lost pets in the Arizona desert.

In National Geographic’s “U.S. Dog-Fighting Rings Stealing Pets for Bait (2004),” Detective Mike Duffey, co-chair of the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Southern Arizona, claimed 50% of 3,396 animals missing over a six-month span were likely stolen. Although no national statistics depict the number annually snatched for bait, the sheriff’s department noted a parallel between a rise in dogfight rings and pet theft.

The stealers tend to be bored teens in an urban hierarchy where tough dogs elevate status. Sergeant Steve Brownstein, a Chicago Police Department veteran who investigates animal abuse on his high-crime beat, has come across a pit bull pup with a split open stomach. He’s seen a Rottweiler mix with skin slashed off her face and a shepherd mix whose penis was fragments.

If fight dogs don’t succumb to internal trauma, blood loss, shock,
dehydration, collapse or infection, they live with wounds and abscesses on their heads, throats, shoulders and legs. Ears are bloody stubs and some faces are so lacerated dogs can hardly breathe.

Once a dog’s “game” is gone, dogfighters view him as a liability. So they discard him in a trash heap or barren building to starve to death. Sgt. Brownstein has found spent dogs burned alive as punishment.

Dogs abandoned on the streets are at the mercy of humane societies and animal control. “You can’t un-train a true fighting dog,” Dorson says. The majority are euthanized.

Left to die. [url=http://www.pet-abuse.com/cases/4402/]http://www.pet-abuse.com/cases/4402/[/url]

For each dog at the end of a short chain, life is a brief mix of arduous
training and gory scrimmages. Still, the dogs seem little more than props in an underworld linked with gambling, auto theft, drug trafficking, arms
smuggling, money laundering, and acts of human violence.

Children, who often take part as spectators, fighters, or runners for the betting operation, are desensitized to animal suffering and criminality. A fifth grader by his uncle’s side at a dogfight told Sgt. Brownstein he was the only bystander who didn’t “explode with laughter” when a defeated dog urinated and defecated upon himself before dying.

“The danger is that [children] will emulate the violence around them,”
Brownstein says. “I know of a group that swung a puppy around by a rope, snapping its neck.”

Psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, the nation’s first expert in court-mandated animal abuse counseling, calls extreme cruelty towards animals “a marker for potential violence toward humans.” In particular, young males with a history of parental neglect or abuse may vent feelings of powerlessness upon animals. Nearly every young male behind the rash of high-profile shootings tortured animals before aiming weapons at students, teachers or parents.

Some question the validity of Dorson, Duffy, Brownstein and others devoted to eradicating dogfighters in a world plagued with weightier problems. Brownstein counters with a simple question: “What kind of society do we become if our children lose their humanity?”

1. Ask your FEDERAL Representative in the House to support the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (H.R. 817), which makes dogfighting (and related crimes) felonies at the national level. The Senate passed a companion
bill by unanimous consent during the 109th Congress.
If you DIDN’T RECEIVE 10/25/06 — Pass The Animal Fighting Prohibition
Enforcement Act, request this sample letter: kinshipcircle@brick.net

2. If your state only has misdemeanor dogfighting penalties, urge your STATE legislators to make this crime a felony.

By Brenda Shoss, founder/president of Kinship Circle

Ms. Shoss writes a bimonthly column in The Healthy Planet and is a
contributing writer for The Animals Voice, Vegnews, and other publications.

To subscribe to Kinship Circle’s weekly action campaigns for animals:

Kinship Circle – Action Campaigns I Literature I Voice For Animals
Nonprofit working in animal protection/cruelty + animal disaster relief campaigns
info@kinshipcircle.org * [url=http://www.KinshipCircle.org]http://www.KinshipCircle.org[/url]

Reprinted with permission

Breeding Pits For Aggression And Dog Fighting Are Big Business In Jersey City

Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City has reported an increase in what are described as aggressive pit bulls or pit bull mixes coming into the shelters.

There are so many of these aggressive dogs filling the local shelters that other dogs must be sent elsewhere.

The numbers are alarming. Of the 566 stray dogs taken to the Humane Society’s shelter in 2005, 65% were pit bulls or mixes. 60% of that number were said to demonstrate aggression. About 20% of the pit bulls or mixes exhibited signs of fighting or abuse. All of the dogs that demonstrated aggression were euthanized.

According to local animal rescuers, breeders are to blame. Breeders breed the dogs for dog fights which are particularly prevalent in Jersey City. Also, people are said to buy pit bulls as a “status symbol”. They do not neuter them; they want the dogs to be “mean”.

There are no regulations at all of breeders in Jersey City or the county, Hudson County.

In Jersey City it is not uncommon for people to put pits in abandoned buildings to breed and keep them. It is easy to make money from breeding aggressive dogs for dog fights. Pit bull puppies sell for $500-$600 or more, even as much as $1200 each. Many youth are attracted to this low overhead “business”.

Animal control has removed a number of pits from abandoned buildings. The breeders or kids, really, keep them in such places to breed them. If there is no building available, sometimes the dogs are just tied up somewhere. They may be left tied there unless the escape or are bred. They are all almost always euthanized when impounded by animal control because of their aggressive behavior.

Recently, some breeders have been mixing pits with larger dogs like rottweilers or mastiffs. In that way they can produce larger dogs. Of course, they are all bred for the purpose of making them more aggressive.

New Jersey’s SPCA reports dog fighting is on the rise throughout New Jersey. The agency has identified dog fighting is occurring in every county. Along with dog fighting comes other forms of cruelty to these dogs. They are used as “bait dogs”. This means they are put into an enclosure with fighting dogs that attack them as a way to “warm up” for their fight.

Dogs used for fighting are usually chained or kept in cages in dark rooms and given little food. They have little or no human interaction and no love. They are bred to be aggressive, to fight.

The dogs are also tortured to make them mean. Dogs have been found with cigarette burns. One pit bull owner reportedly fed his dog gunpowder to make him mean. Of course, the dog died a painful death.

Dog fighting is illegal, of course, in New Jersey. Dog fighting is, in fact, a third degree felony for which an offender can face substantial prison time of 5 years for a first offense with fines up to $10,000.. N.J. Stat. § 4:22-24

Violators usually do not face these penalties, however. There is a lesser penalty described in the animal cruelty statute for dog fighting of fines from $3,000-$5,000. N.J. Stat. § 4:22-26 Offenders are usually convicted of some lesser offense, and most are required to perform community service instead of go to jail.

The SPCA has formed, though, a dog fighting task force, and there may be changes in the way law enforcement and judges deal with dog fighters .

That is not to say dog fighting is easy to prosecute. It exists in a netherworld that rarely comes to light unless there is an informant who is willing to testify in court. It is easy for perpetrators to shut down fights quickly and move locations. The dogs are sometimes just abandoned.

The canine victims of dog fights are dumped everywhere in Jersey City and throughout Hudson County. In Hoboken and Jersey City dogs can be placed in the household trash for pick up as long as they are packaged properly. That’s a convenience for dog fighters.

Sadly, the local shelters may have provided a source of pits for breeders. Some shelters do not require spay/neuter before releasing them for adoption. It is a matter of cost, of course. The Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City which takes in all strays there does, however, spay/neuter all animals placed for adoption.

The local shelters are also where most of the dogs used for breeding aggressive pits and fighting end up. If they are not euthanized for aggression, these dogs take quite some time to place. People are afraid of these dogs which in decades past were considered the ideal family pet.

These pit bulls and pit bull mixes have been bred to be dangerous. Gangs and others have demanded mean dogs as “status symbols”. Dog fighters have been willing to pay substantial sums for aggressive fighting dogs.

If not abandoned on the streets or in the trash, these “status symbol” or fighting dogs, these sentient beings, will likely die in a cage in a shelter. They will never have known what it is to be a dog, to chase a ball, to run and play, to swim or lie in the sun.

Illinois Law Bans Felons From Owning Unspayed/Unneutered or Vicious Dogs

Illinois passed a law effective January 1, 2007 that bars certain felons from “knowingly own[ing], possess[ing], hav[ing] custody of, or resid[ing] in a residence with”, “unspayed or unneutered dog or puppy older than 12 weeks of age” or “any dog that has been determined to be a vicious dog” under the State’s new dangerous or vicious dog law. §720 ILCS 5/12-36

"Vicious dog" means a dog that, without justification, attacks a person and causes serious physical injury or death, or any dog that has been found to be a "dangerous dog" upon 3 separate occasions. §510 ILCS 5/2.19b

"Dangerous dog" describes a dog that is loose and “poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person or a companion animal”. A dangerous dog is also a dog that “without justification, bites a person and does not cause serious physical injury”. § 510 ILCS 5/2.05a.

The law applies for 10 years from the release from prison or jail to anyone convicted of felonies including cruelty to animals and drug crimes.

It certainly cannot hurt to ban these felons from owning unspayed/unneutered or vicious dogs. Dogs that are not spayed/neutered tend to be more aggressive. In fact, 91% of fatal dog attacks involve dogs that have not been spayed/neutered. Research cited in a 2000 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association  study indicated unsterilized dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite.

Thus, the spay/neuter provisions, in particular, may have some effect on the ability of gangs and other criminals to fight dogs or at least breed or train them for fighting. Chicago police have reported a dramatic increase in dog fighting. Dog fighting is now a favored form of gambling by gangs.

The new law’s effectiveness will depend on enforcement against gangs and other dogfighters. The standard to be declared a “vicious dog” under Illinois law is high, though. It is unlikely a dog owned by a dogfighter or drug dealer will be declared dangerous 3 times. The risk of keeping such a dog would be too high. Nonetheless, the law may affect the ability of many to keep “mean” dogs as status symbols.

It is no secret that having a “mean” dog has become a status symbol with some young men. The hip hop culture has certainly promoted the image of a “mean” dog as desirable. Interestingly, a just released study suggests people with “vicious” or aggressive dogs tend to have engaged in some illegal activity. Moreover, those owners with vicious dogs who had been cited for failure to register or keep the dog confined on the premises are more than 9 times likely to have been convicted of a crime involving a child, 8 times more likely to have been convicted of drug crimes, and 3 times more likely to have been convicted of a domestic violence crime. These owners were compared with people with less aggressive dogs that have been licensed.

The study involved researchers from the University of Cincinnati and was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Illinois, at least, has started the process of trying to save dogs from the cruelty of felons intent on using them for fighting or symbols of a violent counterculture.

by Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition