I have been avoiding this subject because even thinking about the suffering of the dogs that are embroiled in the shameful, vicious "sport" of dogfighting makes me literally ill.
The night the news broke that Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons had been involved with dogfighting, I was at a bar watching our favorite Irish band, and the television kept showing pit bulls fighting, over and over. I couldn't watch, as the dogs were covered in blood, and all I could think of was my sweet Diva, and imagine it happening to her.
The segment, which ran on ESPN that night, showed people walking into stark kennels where the pit bulls were kept, recovering from their wounds, and obviously in a state of malnutrition. In a heart-breaking display of the invincibly trusting nature of these dogs, some of them wagged their tails when they saw the visitors.
I have finally decided to post on the subject, as I came across a well-written article on CNN that talks about this case, and it raises some interesting points.
First of all, it states that the description of the breed by the United Kennel Club describes a dog that is nothing like the image of the Pit Bull Terrier that is featured all too often in the media. According to CNN, the UKC website states:
"The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life...This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children."
This is a perfect description of my dog. She is the epitome of a well-bred American Pit Bull Terrier and lives up to this description every day. (OK, she can be bossy and loves to tell us what to do. But she hasn't a mean bone in her body - she loves everyone).
The article also rightly points out that every generation has had its "devil dog du jour." Back in the 1970's I remember it was Doberman Pinschers that had the bad reputation, because they were often used as guard dogs and people were breeding them for aggression.
I worked at the Associated Humane Societies in Newark, NJ, back in the '70's and at that time the Director of the Society had a Doberman and he loved the breed. Being a city shelter, the AHS got a lot of Dobermans, and, similar to today with pit bulls, they were hard to adopt out. The Director always made a special point to keep the adoptable Dobermans from being put to sleep and feature them in the magazine because of his love of the breed, and because of their mainly undeserved reputation.
Now, the American Pit Bull Terrier, once America's favorite dog, is in the same situation as the Doberman was in the 1970's. Too many people have abused them, too many people have raised them without understanding the breed, too many people have bred them with poor bloodlines or purposely tried to make them into aggressive dogs. So even though these poor examples of the breed still make up a very small percentage of the overall population, they are the ones that get the media attention and make the breed's reputation suffer.
The vast majority of the pit bulls that are in shelters today would make great pets. Most responsible shelters temperament-test these dogs before adopting them out, and if they are found to be aggressive, they do not get adopted to anyone. Probably some of them were rejected from the criminal life because they're just too nice, and that's why they ended up at a shelter. Others may have been turned in because they were just "too much dog" for someone who didn't have the patience to train them.
Sadly, there are so many that will never get adopted, because people are afraid of them, or aren't sure whether they can trust them, or live in areas that have breed-specific legislation that prohibits ownership of these dogs, or puts prohibitive conditions on owning them. So many great dogs will languish forever in a cage or be put to sleep due to the misconceptions about their nature.
I do not believe BSL is the answer to the problems that stem from irresponsible owners, irresponsible breeders, and criminal activites involving these dogs.
No, I feel the way to get at the problem is to crack down on the illegal activities that aggressive Pit Bulls are being bred for: As attack/guard dogs for drug dealers and as fighting dogs.
Dogfighting is illegal. But until now it's been a shadowy underworld that is generally ignored. But now with the Vick case, it is out in the open. Not only are people now aware of the problem, but it has hit the "big time." This is a famous NFL football player who was involved in this disgusting world.
Recently I read in our local newspaper about a dogfighting ring that was broken up in Newark. I hope this is just the first of many crackdowns, and that Michael Vick's arrest will be the catalyst for cleaning up the underworld that is spawning the abuse and cruelty toward a steadfast, loyal breed of dog that deserves a lot better treatment at our hands.
I can only hope that the publicity doesn't have the reverse effect and, for some misguided people, cause dogfighting to be glamorized instead of reviled in their minds. I guess we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the American Pit Bull Terrier, please go to the Animal Farm Foundation website, or click on any of the other Pit Bull advocacy links I have on my righthand sidebar.