August 23, 2007

Dogfighting is animal abuse, plain and simple

Posted in Animals at 5:36 pm by The Lizard Queen

Dogfighting has been in the news a lot lately, and while there’s no shortage of outrage that a man who many looked to as a role model was involved with this inhumane (not to mention illegal) “sport,” there are also plenty of people who don’t understand what the big deal is. Dogs fight naturally, just like horses run naturally, so what’s the problem with encouraging that behavior for sport and gambling? The problem is that dog fights are brutal and bloody, and the training methods are terribly cruel. (In case it’s not obvious, gentle reader alert: there’s plenty of upsetting stuff below the fold.)

Any dog owner can tell you that dog fights are vicious. Staged dog fights, naturally, are even worse, and because neither dog will submit, which is generally what happens in non-intentional dog fights, the fights often end with injuries on both sides, and with the losing dog seriously hurt, maimed, or dead. The following is a narrative from an ASPCA article on dogfighting:

The previous match had been short, as one contestant quickly outmatched his opponent, mauling him badly and tearing off an ear. But this final fight matched two highly respected and feared combatants. They eyed each other warily as their handlers finished corner preparations. Spectators came to the edge of their seats, and fathers lifted children to their shoulders for a better view as the judge stepped to the center, called the dogs to their scratch lines and yelled, “Let ’em go!” A cheer arose as the dogs charged across the pit and violently slammed into each other, teeth flashing as they sought a vulnerable target. The dogs came apart once, when the brindle appeared to give up, and turned for a moment. They were returned to their scratch lines and held. Both dogs were breathing hard and bleeding. “Let ’em go,” the judge called again. If the brindle failed to attack now, he would lose. But he was a game dog, and responded to an instinct bred into him over generations and nurtured through training. As the brindle charged across his line, his opponent’s handler released him with the encouragement, “Finish him, Bo.” Tired and weakened by his wounds, the brindle was slow to meet Bo’s ferocious attacks. Bo grabbed the brindle’s right front leg in powerful jaws, bit and twisted. The “snap” of breaking bone was heard as the brindle was flipped onto his back, while Bo sought a better grip on his opponent’s throat. Remarkably, as the judge ordered the handlers to break the dogs, the brindle tried to crawl after Bo, still intent on fighting. His handler gently wrapped him in a blanket, saying, “No more, boy. It’s over.”

Furthermore, if the fight itself doesn’t kill the losing dog, the owner or owners will often finish the job, because a losing dog means lost money. I really don’t want to make this piece about anyone in specific, but here is a passage from a recent indictment that illustrates my point:

50. In or about March of 2003, PEACE, VICK, and other individuals unknown to the Grand Jury sponsored a female pit bull in a dog fight against the 35 pound female pit bull owned by C.W. #2. The purse for the dog fight was established at approximately $13,000 per side, for a total of approximately $26,000.

51. In or about March of 2003, PEACE, VICK, and other individuals unknown to the Grand Jury sponsored a female pit bull in a fight against the 35 pound female pit bull owned by C.W. #2.

52. In or about March of 2003, “Bad Newz Kennels,” represented by PEACE, VICK, and others unknown to the Grand Jury, lost the purse when the 35 pound female pit bull owned by C.W. #2 prevailed over the “Bad Newz Kennels” pit bull.

53. In or about March of 2003, PEACE, after consulting with VICK about the losing female pit bull’s condition, executed the losing dog by wetting the dog down with water and electrocuting the animal.

I hate to sound like an armchair legal analyst-cum-veterinarian, but that doesn’t sound particularly humane. (And in case you’d like to accuse me of being a hypocrite, I’m against capital punishment, so don’t even try it.)

And then there’s the training. According to Wikipedia (insert standard disclaimer about the relative reliability of Wikipedia here), “At least one major study alleges that the prevailing mind set among dog fighters is that, the more the dog suffers, the tougher he will become, and the better fighter he will therefore be.” Here is a more detailed analysis from the ASPCA article:

It is important to understand that not just any dog can be trained to fight. Much like herding dogs, trailing dogs and other breeds selected for particular roles, fighting dogs are born ready for the training that will prepare them to succeed in the pit. Staged fights are not the same as the flare-ups seen in dog runs or sometimes among dogs in the same home. Much like the fights among their wolf ancestors, most fights among dogs end quickly, with one individual submitting to the other. The winner typically accepts the submission signal of rolling over, and ends the encounter with no further violence. Subsequent encounters between these two individuals frequently involve no more than a highly stylized ballet of positions and expressions that reconfirm their relationship.

To breed successful fighting dogs, this aspect of their behavior had to be eliminated. Fighting dogs will continue to attack, regardless of the submission signals of an opponent. Similarly, these dogs will continue to fight even though badly injured. Gameness—a dog’s willingness or desire to fight—is the most admired trait in fighting dogs.

There are a variety of methods used to encourage aggression in fighting dogs. There’s the use of so-called bait animals: “stolen dogs and cats are used to train fighters and give them their first taste of blood” (ASPCA); “Some owners train their dogs for fights using smaller animals such as cats, rabbits or small dogs. These ‘bait’ animals are often stolen pets or animals obtained through ‘free to good home’ advertisements” (HSUS Dogfighting Fact Sheet). Fighting dogs are sometimes chained with heavy weights around their necks to help build up the neck muscles. A dog that is no longer earning its keep as a fighter might have its muzzle taped shut so it can be a sort of practice dummy for younger dogs. And, of course, you can imagine what happens to dogs that don’t show promise (from the aforementioned indictment):

12. In or about February 2002, PEACE and VICK “rolled” or “tested” some of their fighting dogs against other dogs owned by CW#1 and others in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Rolling” or “testing” a fighting dog means placing the dog in a short fighting match to determine how well the animal fights. One of the pit bulls sponsored by PEACE and VICK in this “testing” session did not fight very well.

13. In or about February 2002, PEACE executed the pit bull that did not perform well in the “testing” session by shooting it with a .22 caliber pistol.

One other example of the brutality dogs are subjected to outside the pit is the so-called rape stand. When the aforementioned recent dogfighting case came to light, I had heard of most of the equipment and techniques mentioned in the indictment. The rape stand was news to me, however. Here’s how Slate.com defines it:

Pooches die so often in fights that owners always need new dogs. This is where the rape stand, also called a breeding stand, comes in. It consists of two steel poles mounted to the ends of a platform that’s often made of wood. U-shaped pieces of curved metal sit atop each pole; one goes around the belly of a female pit bull and the other around her neck. The stand isn’t illegal, but dog breeders don’t normally use it; after all, female dogs in heat aren’t so particular. And most people wouldn’t want to breed poorly socialized dogs that must be strapped down to mate. But breeders of attack dogs place special value on females that are so mean they might bite any male dogs that get too close. People find these stands online or through an underground dogfighting magazine, or they make their own.

In other words, a rape stand does pretty much what it sounds like it does: it allows an overly aggressive dog to be held down so she can be bred, against her will, to another overly aggressive dog. What a nauseating idea.

Finally, one last quote (from the Animal Legal & Historical Center):

Dogs that are born, bought or stolen for fighting are often neglected and abused from the start. Most spend their entire lives alone on chains or in cages and only know the attention of a human when they are being trained to fight and they only know the company of other animals in the context of being trained to kill them. Most dogs spend their entire lives without adequate food, water, or shelter. They are not perceived as sentient beings capable of suffering, rather they are commodities that exist for the sole purpose of making the owner money and prestige.

What kind of life is that for an animal that’s meant to be a companion?

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2 Comments »

  1. me said,

    SO’S YOUR FACE

  2. The dogs are faithful and loyal just to be betrayed by the person they love the most. Ruthlessness at its finest.


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