Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Vick Case and Pit Bull Terriers

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.


Larry said...

I have never had a Pit Bull and know noone who has. However I am a fan of dogs, had Boston Terriers since I was a small boy.

I believe how you treat a dog will determine its temperment and attitude.

Many want a Pit Bull because they feel impressive to have an "attack dog."

Dogs are like kids. If you raise them under kindness and love, you will get the same in return.

The same goes if you mistreat a dog, or a child, they will end up like they were raised.

Dogs are like people. All either want is respect, understanding and love.

That's not so bad!

Mauigirl said...

Well said, Larry. You are so right!

Beverly said...

Just wanted to stop by and mahalo nui loa for visiting and bringing your own ray of sunshine to my page. I'm adding you to my links so I can't lose you and look forward to visiting again! Aloha! XOXO

Anonymous said...

Maui, you wrote wee and sensibly about this subject. I happen to be a Pit Bull lover from having known many in the kind and loving ownership of friends and my friend, today, my ex husband. We purchased after a tremendous amount of research a very well bred puppy which turned out to be unstable emotionally before he was into his adult teeth, and had to take the loss and have him destroyed. While that sounds extreme this pup had real problems.

I rescued my first Doberman in the seventies. I used to own a commercial guard dog kennel in Los Angeles in the late sixties and early seventies so I am familiar with the results of the morons that want to make their dog macho for their own lack of self esteem - before the police in the areas surrounding LA took a "vicious" dog to the pound to be destroyed, they brought them to me to be evaluated and if they were truly too aggressive for family living, I kept them for my business and they were very well cared for, and certainly NOT re abused. What sad creatures. There wasn't a Pit Bull among them - rather the majority were German Shephers! which are now valued and respected police dogs.

You're so right, every generation of not masculine enough (usually always men) wannebe dog owners has it's own vision of what breed is the current 'compensator'.

BTW at the time I only had ONE Doberman in that kennel.

Point being: anyone who understands canines knows that most people buy dogs whose appearance they like, even when macho isn't a factor. THAT TOO is by itself a problem.

Part of the licensing process of dog owning might want to be at least a one time visit to a recognized professional breeder or trainer to evaluate the family situation and the prospective owner.

Responsible breeders do this before they release their animals.

There is no perfect solution, sadly for the canine who pretty much across the board lives to please their person (with the exception possibly of Afghan Hounds which i also owned.. and i say that tongue in cheek.. as AHs are wonderful pals but pretty independent until they "mature" at maybe six yrs. old.

It is important to learn what a breed is bred for becasue you aren't going to overcome nature. If you like the looks of a hunting breed, for ex, and have an apt or a small enclosure, you and the hunting dog won't get along. It will become a neurotic in confinement where it cannot do what its instinct directs it to.

Lastly, to ban breeds would eventually cause most to become extinct here. As noted by all, each generation has its own IMAGE dog. Thank goodness Dobermans weren't slated for extinction because of the irresponsible actions of their purchasers a couple of decades ago.

I've lived with Dobies since the 70s, puppies I selected and rescues, including some terribly abused Dobies which eventually were reconditioned to be MY family dogs. The single largest joy in my life is my Dobermans. As i chose not to have human kids, all dogs are my kids and i try to be very proactive about educating the public, just as you are doing.

Thank you on behalf of the Pit Bulls today. They ae a handful for an average person but if you understand them they can also be wonderful family pets and not a threat to the public.

To allow criminal dog fighting to cause foolish and ignorant panic legislation to pass will result in the eventual elimination of most large breeds, and some toy breeds as well.

Anonymous said...

Popped over from Thailandchani's blog...saw your name on the blogroll.

I used to live in hawaii - why I'm going anonymous -- and I have to ask if your favorite Irish band is the Celtic Tigers. I'm a good friend of Kevin O's - although I know he and Mikey have split up the two bars, Mulligans and the new one in Lahaina... ;-)

Oh, and I hope they throw the book at Vick if he's found guilty of these things. Horrifying.

TomCat said...

Well, I'm hardly an authority on dawgs, but it appears to me that Pit Bulls are getting a bad rap. They don't smell any worse, lick any more sloppily, or steal cat food any more than any other dawg.

On the other hand, it appears Michael Vick is not getting a bad rap.

Mauigirl said...

Hi Beverly, thanks so much, have linked you on my blog as well.

Zeqeee, thanks for your very insightful comments about dogs and thank you for rescuing the Dobies. I totally agree people should do their research before they get a dog and make sure the personality/breed of dog agrees with their lifestyle.

Anonymous, I don't actually live in Hawaii (just want to!). Next time I'm there I'll have to check out the Celtic Tigers. I see from Google they play at Wailea. We're planning a trip next March so I hope they're playing then! The band we like plays in Clifton and West Orange, NJ most of the time and their name is Paddy and the Paleboys.

Tomcat, my dog might steal cat food a little more than the average dog. But that is her only crime! ;-) We had to put a gate up to keep her out of the cat's room!

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