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Dogfighting—a blood “sport” in which two dogs are pitted against each other in a fighting pit and forced to rip each other to shreds in a fight to the death for the “amusement” and monetary gain of onlooking gamblers—is illegal in the United States and is a felony in every state. Experts estimate that tens of thousands of people are involved in professional dogfighting, while an additional 100,000 may be participating in so-called “streetfighting” or informal dogfights.
The most commonly bred dogs for fighting are Staffordshire terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American bulldogs, and American pit bull terriers. All of them are usually referred to as pit bulls. Dogs are highly social pack animals who need and deserve love, attention, and exercise and thrive in an environment that offers the companionship of other dogs and human guardians. Dogs who are used for fighting are chained, taunted, and starved in order to trigger extreme survival instincts and encourage aggressiveness.
Typically, before their first birthdays, puppies bred for fighting are placed in front of other dogs in order to test their aggression. At around 15 months, two prospective “fighters” are forced to participate in a “roll”—their first fight, which lasts about 10 minutes—followed by a second fight that lasts an hour. Survivors are chained again (sometimes with weighted logging chains) for a couple of months until they are ready for their first “show.” Breeders “train” dogs by forcing them to tread water in pools; run on a treadmill while a cat or another terrified animal, who may be someone’s stolen companion animal, is placed in a cage in front of the dog (to be caught and mauled to death as a reward afterward); and hang on with their jaws while dangling from a chain baited with meat. The dogs are likely injected with steroids, and some breeders go so far as to sharpen their dogs’ teeth, cut off their ears (in order to prevent another dog from latching on), and add roach poison to their food so that their fur might taste bad to other dogs.
Dogs that “win” fights are forced to fight again and again and are bred to produce profit-making puppies. One breeder who was claimed to be a particularly successful fighting dog earned $100,000 in stud fees in a single year. “Rape stands,” which are routinely confiscated from large-scale dogfighting operations, are contraptions used by breeders to strap down resistant female dogs so that males can impregnate them. Dogs that do not fight or lose fights may be used as “bait” animals or may be abandoned, tortured, set on fire, electrocuted, shot, drowned, or beaten to death.
A dogfight could be a street fight, which lasts only a few minutes and takes place in an alley or a back yard, or it could fall under one of two levels of organized fights: hobbyist and professional. Organized fights tend to be highly secretive, with word spreading by mouth or via the Internet. Participants may meet in one place and be taken en masse to another location so that even they don’t know where they’re going until they arrive. Abandoned houses, garages, warehouses, and fields all serve as sites for dogfights—places that can be easily scouted by lookouts and quickly evacuated in advance of a raid.
A “pit” consists of a dirt or carpeted floor that is anywhere from 8 to 16 square feet and is surrounded by a wooden—and often portable—enclosure that is about 3 feet high. Dogs are taken to either end of the ring and released at the “face your dogs” command. Break or parting sticks are used to pry apart fighting dogs, who clamp down so fiercely that it is not uncommon for dogs to “fang” themselves (i.e., bite through their own lips). The fight could go on for hours—until one dog is seriously injured or dies or, “[s]hould the police interfere, the referee … name[s] the next meeting place,” according to rules posted on a breeder’s Web site.
Dogs are ranked by their “gameness”—the ability to keep fighting even when pain and loss of blood have caused their bodies to go into shock. A federal prosecutor recalls a case in which one of 18 dogs found in a raid had 70 open wounds and was missing half a jaw while another dog’s body was 75 percent covered in scar tissue. A Louisiana state police officer who conducts dogfighting investigations says, “When you go to where these fights have happened, you’ll find a couple of dog corpses or a pit full of blood.”
These tortured dogs do not make good companions, as breeders commonly mate close relatives together in an effort to pass on the traits of dogs that are especially aggressive and whose instincts and training motivate them to kill other animals.
Federal law bans interstate commerce import and export of fighting dogs, and the penalty is three years in jail with a $250,000 fine. But as a Texas sheriff remarked, “If you don’t know it’s going on, there’s not a whole lot you can do. It’s organized crime.” Officials often stumble across dogfighting operations accidentally while searching property for other reasons. For instance, in 2007, authorities were searching Michael Vick’s property in rural Virginia for suspected drug activity when they discovered dogs who were tied to car axles with logging chains as well as dogfighting equipment, including treadmills, chains, whips, and injectable drugs.
Dogs raised for fighting are usually chained (or “tethered”), which is a safety hazard for the dogs and the community. A study published in Pediatrics magazine reported that “[b]iting dogs were significantly more likely … to be chained” and nearly three times as likely to attack than dogs who were not tethered.(24) While many cities and counties have addressed this cruel and dangerous practice in an effort to prevent tragedies from striking near home, others consider such legislation only after chained dogs maul children in their areas. Get your community to enact an ordinance that bans or at least restricts tethering today!
If you suspect that dogfighting is happening in your neighborhood, contact local law enforcement authorities or PETA.