By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood SUN on May 15, 2016
One media reporter asked, “Does dog fighting still go on, here in the United States?” It was a wake-up call for many in 2007 when the property of a popular football quarterback was raided for illegal dog fighting activities. Michael Vick and three associates of his Bad Newz Kennels were charged and convicted in Federal and Virginia State courts.
Although a felony in all 50 states, dog fighting is alive and well, or hell for the dogs subjected to this barbaric activity. Dog fighters themselves refer to it as merely a gambling sport, but investigators know it to be a very cruel, inhumane and brutal activity. It is anything but a sport. Dogs are raised, trained, conditioned and forced to fight, inflicting severe pain and damage. A fight ends only when one dog refused to continue, is killed by the other dog, or jumps from the fighting pit. Often one dog will apply a grip with such pressure that a wooden, plastic or ivory “break stick” is used to pry the jaws open, to allow his opponent to continue. Many dogs are drugged to mask pain, build muscle mass and increase aggression. Dog’s ears and tails are cut very short making them harder to grab and hang onto. It also lessons the opponent’s ability to read body language.
Dog fighting became popular with the same crowds that enjoyed Bear Baiting and Bull Baiting, back in the early 1800’s. The type of dogs that had been used to harass, torture and bring down a tethered bear or bull, was now pitted against each other.
Dog fighting is placed in three categories, professional, hobbyist and street fighting. Street fighting is the newest and least organized. Fights are held in basements, garages, condemned buildings, or on street corners. In our inner Cities it is closely associated with drug dealings. During my years with Memphis Animal Services, we would accompany the police department on week end drug and dog fighting raids. Within a two year period, the shelter handled over 5400 pit bull type dogs, many confiscated from these raids. Often these dogs would be reclaimed with drug money, often costing dealers and fighters $2500 to $3000, in reclaim fees, after their weekend of fun.
Hobbyist tend to fight their dogs closer to home while professional fighters will travel great distances to attend fights with large purses. Money confiscated during raids range from $10,000 to $100,000 and above. Stud fees, puppies and training equipment are advertised in underground magazines and dog fighting web sites. Fight Information is also exchanged using certain code words.
Animal advocates have pushed for strong felony laws, throughout the years. Although the brutality of the activity was a guiding force, most felony legislation is a result of law enforcement being made aware of the many additional felony crimes that are associated with dog fighting. There will be illegal gambling, drugs, weapons, and money laundering.
The breed of choice has always been the American Pit Bull Terrier. Although this breed can make wonderful loving pets, fighting dogs are specially selected, bred, conditioned and trained to fight.
Other breeds and types of dogs are often sacrificed as bait dogs for training. These conquests build the confidence of the fighting dogs. Street fighters are not so particular. Their dogs come from anywhere. If a dog is tough looking and will fight, they will try and figure a way to get it. Many are stolen from yards or obtained from free to good home ads. Humane Societies and animal shelters should always be on guard and aware of where their adoptable pets are going.