The Truth About Pit Bulls and Dog Fighting
Dog fighting is a major problem all across the United States. Many people think the problem is confined to urban black youth of large cities, but the fact is that dog fighting is also popular with whites and Hispanics in some rural areas, especially in the Deep South. Just a couple of years ago, a large dog fight was raided by law enforcement in Southeast Georgia. This took place in a remote wooded area, with observers from not only Georgia, but from surrounding states, as well. The event was held at night, and police helicopters with spotlights were used to help locate the fight and participants who fled into the adjacent woods. Almost forty people were charged, and numerous vehicles and dogs were confiscated. Spectators included women and children.
What is a pit bull?
Almost all dog fights involve the dog breed known as the pit bull – the American Pit Bull Terrier. This breed is not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), but it is recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC). The American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are sometimes referred to as pit bulls, also. Even breeders have trouble distinguishing between American Staffordshire Terriers, which are recognized by the AKC, and American Pit Bull Terriers. According to them the difference lies in the bloodlines, and most dog fighters won’t fight a dog with Amstaff bloodlines because they consider them show dogs – not fighting dogs. Even so, some Amstaffs are registered with both the AKC and other breed registries.
The American Pit Bull Terrier is from 18 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 110 pounds. They are powerful dogs, with especially powerful jaws and large blocky heads. In the U.S., the ears are usually cropped, but the tapered tail is left long. The short coat can be any color.
Pit bulls are intelligent with a strong desire to please. Unfortunately, in irresponsible hands, the dogs can become very aggressive, especially toward other animals. If a pit is raised and handled by a responsible owner who establishes himself as the pack leader, the dog can be trained to tolerate other animals and be a wonderful pet.
If you picture pits as fighting dogs only, watch the videos below. Remember, however, dogs and small children should NEVER be left together unattended - regardless of the dog's breeding!
How are pit bulls trained?
Most pit bulls that are purchased to be fighting dogs are trained from puppies to be animal aggressive. Generally, only the males are trained to fight. Some trainers begin with small helpless animals like kittens. This teaches the dogs to kill, and since a kitten is no match for even a young pit bull, the dog’s confidence is increased. As the puppy grows, adult cats might be used next, followed by medium-sized dogs.
The pit bulls’ physical condition is a main concern. The dogs are placed on treadmills to increase their endurance and stamina. Many are chained with huge, heavy logging chains. Supporting and dragging around this weight builds up the muscles in the dog’s neck, shoulders, and chest.
Ironically, even though pits are taught to be very animal aggressive, they’re taught to be people friendly. They have to be in order for their handlers to be able to manage the dogs.
Many female pit bulls have no interaction with humans. They’re used simply as puppy-producing machines.
The dog fights
Many dog fighters belong to groups, often referred to as “dog fighting rings.” The fights may be held in basements, abandoned houses, or garages. The winner can earn as much as $10,000 for a single fight. Betting on the dog fight by observers is a regular occurrence. Losing dogs are almost always killed. Since the losing owner sees the defeat as personally humiliating, the dogs are not humanely euthanized – they’re most often drowned, hanged, electrocuted, or beaten to death.
A new form of dog fighting is called “street dog fights,” in which teenagers meet on the street and fight their dogs in the open. Sometimes the young men choose a ball field or playground for such encounters, too. These fights are often done between rival gang members or between two individuals in order to settle a score. Dog fighting has been somewhat glamorized among these youths, especially since the Michael Vick case. Also, some rap music lyrics celebrate dog fighting, making it appealing to impressionable teenagers.
Rescued fighting dogs
Historically speaking, when an animal welfare group discovered a dog fight and confiscated the pit bulls, the dogs were all euthanized because they were considered to be too dangerous for adoption. Now, however, some shelters and rescue groups are taking a second look at this practice. With these organizations, each dog is assessed as an individual and is not automatically branded as “dangerous.”
Shelters that still euthanize any dog associated with fighting cite cost as a reason for doing so. It takes $30-$40 a day to house the average shelter dog, and they feel that it’s more important to spend that money on a highly adoptable pet rather than on a pit bull.
Michael Vick’s rescued pit bulls were lucky. As part of his punishment, he was required to pay $150,000 in restitution for the upkeep of his dogs, most of which ended up in sanctuaries.
Re-thinking pit bull fighting
Thanks to concerned animal welfare workers, new opportunities for pit bull owners are being employed. For example, in Atlanta and Chicago – two of the worst sites for dog-fighting teens – volunteers are offering pit bull owners an opportunity to harness their dogs’ power and agility in a positive way instead of by fighting.
Free obedience clinics are provided in several inner-city neighborhoods exclusively for pit bulls and pit pull crosses. This gives young owners another outlet for their competitiveness and helps them learn to work with their canines in positive ways. The teachers also educate young dog owners about the inherent cruelty and possible results of dog fighting – it’s now a felony in all fifty states.
So far, the Atlanta and Chicago programs have had great response. Hopefully, more cities and towns will join in this new slant on reducing the number of dog fights.
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