Dogfighting and Drugs -The Story Of Donnie and His Fighting Dogs
Too Grown Up For Eight Years Old
Donnie was eight years old and in third grade when we first met. He was a short, skinny little boy with a shaved head and two front teeth missing. He was dressed in the best clothes from the mall and his tennis shoes would have cost me a weeks salary.
It took me a little while to get to know Donnie. Not that he was quiet - he was secretive about his home life. I would ask him questions that I asked all of the students - what did you do this weekend - what are your plans for Winter Break - just simple, easy to answer questions. His answers were often vague and didn't tell me a whole lot about him.
One day, as my students were sitting in our sharing circle, I shared a little about my life growing up. I spoke of being arrested at thirteen for shoplifting and having to spend hours in juvenile hall. I spoke of going to the McDonald's next door to our home and waiting for them to throw food out so that my sisters and I could eat. I told them about my mother not being home for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. The students all listened intently.
A few days later, Donnie stayed after class. He asked if he could talk to me. I told him that of course I could. He wanted to know if I could keep it a secret. I told him that I could keep a secret, as long as his safety wasn't in danger. He opened up and began talking about his life.
He told me that his father was the leader of a local gang. That his father bought and sold and used all different types of drugs. That his father had talked about people who were killed. He talked about all sorts of things that happened at his house - gang members who spent much of the days at his house and smoked and drank and did drugs in front of all the children in the home.
He talked about his mother, who would have strange men with her all the time and how they would disappear into a bedroom for awhile. That the men would then leave only to have other men do the same thing.
He took a one hundred dollar bill from his pocket. He told me that this was his pay from the previous weekend. It had been his job to be the lookout for the police while his father and others - as many as hundreds of others - had fought pit bulls in the back yard. He talked about the dog that he had raised from a puppy and how it had died at the fight.
He told me all of this as if he weren't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. He thought he was doing better than most of his friends because he always had money and they didn't. He had new clothes and new shoes and all of the latest new gadgets. But deep down, he knew that this was not the way life should be. Then he asked if I was going to tell.
I asked him what he wanted me to do. I asked him what he thought I should do.
He told me he was scared and that he wasn't sure what I should do. He didn't want to leave his mom and dad. He loved them. But he wanted the things that were going on to stop. He was tired of being scared of the cops. He was tired of losing his beloved pets and having to watch dogs kill each other. He told me he wanted me to help him stop all this bad stuff from happening.
I walked with him down to the principal's office. Together we told her about the things he had told me. Together we called social services and told the story again.
In northern Oklahoma at about that same time that day, there was a police raid on an illegal kennel. There were hundreds of pit bulls that were taken - pit bulls in a variety of different conditions, all showing signs of dog fighting. There had been several men arrested at the same time. One of them was Donnie's dad.
In the end, Donnie and his brothers and sisters were removed from the home. His father was imprisoned after a lengthy trial. His mother just disappeared. After a few months, an aunt decided to take all of the kids and care for them. The last time I saw Donnie, he was in high school. He was on the football and basketball teams. He was make B's in all of his classes. His brothers and sisters were all doing just as well.
Sometimes, we wonder why students have such difficult time learning. And then we find out...