Busts plummet as pit bull advocacy has all but legalized dogfighting
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.––Designated National Dog Fighting Awareness Day by the American SPCA, April 8, 2019 and the next several days appear to have passed without a single dogfighting bust or other noteworthy event pertaining to dogfighting occurring anywhere in the United States.
Indeed, more than 100 days into 2019, there have apparently been only three alleged dogfighting busts of note in the U.S. all year, all in March: two in Portsmouth, Virginia, and one in Detroit, the biggest of 2019 so far, in which 35 pit bulls were impounded from four properties.
As Patch staff writer John Barker observed from Gwinnett County, Georgia in 2018, “National Dog Fighting Awareness Day came and went without much hoopla,” including––in both 2018 and 2019––barely any publicity directed toward mass media and the pubic from the ASPCA itself.
Why was “National Dogfighting Awareness Day” declared?
Timed each year to coincide with the start of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, National Dog Fighting Awareness Day may have been concocted to hitch a ride on attention to the much older and bigger event, co-sponsored by the American Humane Association since 1956.
The ASPCA, founded in New York City in 1866, and the American Humane Association, founded in Albany, New York in 1877, have after all had a very long rivalry.
Or perhaps National Dog Fighting Awareness Day was meant to build sympathy for pit bulls, by default the main subject of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, even as the AHA and the other co-sponsors––State Farm Insurance, the Insurance Information Institute, and celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell––downplay to the point of dismissal the breed-specific reality that pit bulls over the past decade have accounted for more than 70% of all fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
The HEART Act?
According to ASPCAPro, however, an electronic newsletter distributed to animal shelter personnel, the focal purpose of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day was to promote something called “The HEART Act,” described as “an important piece of legislation that will help victims of dogfighting by decreasing their length of stay in shelters and allowing them to be rehabilitated and re-homed faster.”
In other words, “The HEART Act” is meant to expedite the transfer into unwitting families and communities pit bulls who have been bred, raised, trained, and sometimes already used specifically to kill other animals.
To put that into perspective, consider that the sum of pit bulls known to have been impounded in dogfighting cases since ANIMALS 24-7 began logging the impoundments in 1997 is 14,653, plus unknown numbers impounded in 2003-2004: an average of 733 per year over the 20 years for which data is available.
“Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” means all animals
Consider also that the full name of the ASPCA is “The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
Founder Henry Bergh made a priority of prosecuting animal fighting in all forms, not just dogfighting. Some of Bergh’s most storied arrests were of people who made contests of setting dogs on captive rats. Bergh recognized that every sentient species suffers when ripped limb from limb and disemboweled, including rats, not just pit bulls done in by each other.
Presumably the ASPCA of today shares Bergh’s perspective, at least in abstract.
Numbers, however, suggest that the present ASPCA leadership has rather different priorities.
Pit bulls, about 20% of them rehomed by animal shelters, killed approximately 14,850 other dogs, 8,850 cats, and 13,662 other animals in 2018 alone, injuring tens of thousands of others, even without the help of ASPCA-pushed “HEART Acts” to accelerate the mayhem.
Just under 4,000 pit bulls––3,991, to be exact, an average of 665 per year––are known to have been impounded in U.S. dogfighting cases since 2013.
Over the same six years, pit bulls have killed approximately 61,668 other dogs, 21,978 cats, and 59,226 other animals.
Who has a heart for those victims?
36% drop––at least––in dogfighting impoundments
To put dogfighting further into perspective as a source of animal suffering, relative to routine pit bull behavior, consider that the ASPCA in January 2019 claimed, according to Bill Cummings of the Connecticut Post, that “over the past eight years it has assisted with 200 dogfighting cases in 24 states,” involving the impoundment of nearly 5,000 pit bulls, including 400 pit bulls impounded in 12 states in 2018 alone.
Those numbers actually better coincide with the data that ANIMALS 24-7 extracted from media accounts for the eight years 2010-2017, than with the 2011-2018 data.
Either way, however, the ASPCA statement suggests a 36% drop in dogfighting impoundments by the end of the time frame in question from the average of the preceding seven years.
95% decline in dogfighting bust reportage
The ANIMALS 24-7 data suggests an even steeper drop than that, even taking into account that the numbers of people arrested and dogs impounded often fluctuate greatly from one year to the next.
Reported dogfighting busts peaked at 84 in 2009, not exceeding 45 in any year since.
Arrests in connection with dogfighting peaked at 297 in 2000, last topping 100 in 2015.
Pit bull impoundments from alleged dogfighting venues soared above 1,100 for three years in a row following the April 2007 arrest of football star Michael Vick on dogfighting charges, but have reached or even approached 1,000 only twice since, in 2013 and 2016, and fell to less than half as many in both 2017 and 2018.
Coverage of dogfighting busts by mass media documented by www.NewsLibrary.com dropped from 397 reports in 2007 to just 22 in 2018: a 95% drop.
Ten cases per year
Connecticut Post reporter Bill Cummings in his January 18, 2019 article “Dogfighting still a ‘blood’ sport in Connecticut,” wrote that University of Connecticut law professor Jessica Rubin “said her research shows that 110 charges for dogfighting related offenses were filed in Connecticut between 2007 and 2017,” for an average of 10 cases per year.
Nationally, over the same 11 years, 1,546 alleged dogfighters were charged with related offenses as result of 544 busts, an average of almost exactly three sets of charges per bust.
This suggests that Connecticut courts handle the outcome of slightly more than three dogfighting busts per year––which would make dogfighting only about three times more common in Connecticut than people getting killed by dogs, three of the four killed in the past five years having been killed by pit bulls.
The city of Los Angeles, meanwhile, reportedly has not prosecuted a dogfighting case since 2010, but had a dog attack fatality––by pit bull––as recently as 2017.
Dogfighting & the Ku Klux Klan
To be sure, not every dogfighting case comes to the attention of either mass media, the ASPCA, or law enforcement. Illegal in all 50 U.S. states, and prohibited by federal law as well, dogfighting has been a clandestine activity almost everywhere within U.S. territory for more than 150 years.
Organized dogfighting for much of that time was conducted largely as a fundraising entertainment hosted by secret societies associated with the Ku Klux Klan, protected by KKK infiltration of law enforcement.
This, incidentally, is an aspect of dogfighting of which the ASPCA seems never to have promoted awareness, though the American Humane Association did to some extent, even at the height of overt KKK political influence in the early 20th century.
Over the past half century, since the break-up of the “old Klan,” which posed as a network of social clubs and community service clubs, organized dogfighting has continued as a pursuit of prison-based gangs, drug traffickers, and other criminal elements, who mostly stay out of sight.
Undoing effective legislation
But instead of flushing dogfighters into the light, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Best Friends Animal Society, the American Humane Association, and other politically engaged supposed animal advocacy organizations have for decades sought to undo the very legislation––bans on the possession, sale, and transfer of pit bulls––which does most to suppress dogfighting.
Since no other type of dog has ever proved inclined to fight other dogs to the death for the entertainment of sadists and gamblers, mere possession and breeding of pit bulls was for generations a surefire indication of involvement in dogfighting.
Few people beyond dogfighters who tried to sell their culls as pets––notably John P. Colby of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Charles Lawton of New Orleans––even pretended that pit bulls could be safe pets.
Pit bull glut
As pit bulls spread from almost exclusive possession by dogfighters, however, into widespread use to guard marijuana “grow” operations and crack houses, disregard of spay/neuter by scofflaw owners caused pit bull intake at U.S. animal shelters to rise from 2% of the dogs circa 1986 to 5% by 1993, 23% by 2003, and more than a third by 2013.
Pit bulls now glut animal shelters, rescue fostering programs, and sanctuaries to the point that as of June 2018 more than 40% of the U.S. pit bull population were without permanent homes.
Yet the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, and several thousand other organizations continue to promote pit bull breeding by pouring multi-millions of dollars per year into trying to encourage pit bull adoptions, including through translocating pit bulls with known histories of dangerous behavior from one place to another.
Denying the risks
Much of the effort by the ASPCA et al amounts to trying to popularize pit bulls by denying the risks associated with pit bull behavior.
This approach helps to sell much of the public on acquiring pit bulls as pets, but not necessarily on adopting pit bulls from animal shelters. Shelter dogs by definition have already flunked out of one or more homes, coming with either problematic or unknown histories.
Aware of that, would-be pit bull owners patronize breeders instead. Because the same proclivities that make pit bulls dangerous in the first place make them very difficult to raise en masse in crowded puppy mills, producing pit bulls long since became the mainstay of the backyard breeding industry. This by itself helps to feed the pit bull surplus––and then about a third of all the pit bulls in the U.S. flunk out of their homes each year, at an average age of about 18 months.
Dogfighting in the name of rescue
Dogfighters, meanwhile, appear to have learned that most of the humane community, including humane law enforcement, is so invested in a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, say-no-evil approach to pit bull issues that the easiest way to operate is to pretend to be involved in doing pit bull rescue.
This approach was pioneered by a California couple named Cesar and Mercedes Cerda, who were arrested in 1998 and sent to prison for related offenses. They appear to have been ahead of their time.
The formula today appears to be to get IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, set up a Facebook page advertising some “bait dogs,” and if a drone pilot happens to videotape dozens of chained pit bulls, the matter will go no farther.
Moving pit bulls interstate to be fought need no longer be hidden, when the transport can be passed off as rescue work.
Dogfighting training paraphernalia is now easily passed off as just part of preparing pit bulls for exhibition or weight-pulling contests, often sponsored by “rescues.”
How dogfighting has been legalized
Cultural indications, such as references to dogfighting in popular entertainment and advertising, suggest that dogfighting today is still just as big as it was when Michael Vick was arrested, tried, and convicted.
Arrests, trials, and convictions of dogfighters, however, have fallen to as few as they are now because, for all practical purposes, almost everything historically associated with dogfighting has been legalized through the efforts of the alleged humane community except for the fights themselves.
Dogfighters and attendees at dogfights can still be prosecuted if caught in the act. Reality, though, is that most convictions won in connection with dogfighting are for illegal possession of drugs and firearms, parole violations, and neglect of pit bulls, not actually for dogfighting or breeding and raising dogs to fight.
What could be done instead of “Much Ado About Nothing”
The lackluster celebration of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day could have been dramatized as “Much Ado About Nothing,” if that title had not already been claimed by William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare, as it happens, struggled to promote his plays at the Globe Theatre in the shadow of the Paris Gardens, the London dogfighting and bear-baiting emporium that was the preferred entertainment venue of Queen Elizabeth I.
Yet business might be brisk for National Dog Bite Prevention Week, if the co-sponsors would take pit bull proliferation by the horns, take the bullhorns away from pit bull pushers and apologists, and seize upon the educable moments presented by incident after incident to try to undo the damage done by promoting the pretense that dogs bred since Elizabethan times to kill and maim are behaviorally just like any others.
ASPCA repeals pit bull ban by 125 votes
Instead, just ahead of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the ASPCA celebrated having joined with local pit bull advocates to repeal the pit bull ban that had been in place since 1987 in Liberty, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City.
Voters passed the repeal by a margin of 52% to 48%. The pro-repeal side won about 1,610 votes, of 3,097 cast, in a community of about 30,000 people.
In other words, about 125 votes decided the issue.
“We came in two weeks ago and initiated the canvassing effort,” exulted ASPCA government relations outreach manager Kathryn Kopanke.
Local officials two days later broke ground for a new $2.6 million animal shelter, almost certainly soon to be as filled with abandoned and impounded pit bulls as every other shelter in the greater Kansas City area.
Even as the votes were counted in Liberty, Missouri, a three-year-old boy in Yakima County, Washington was mauled by a pit bull found at large and brought home by his mother.
A neighbor shot the pit bull before Yakima County sheriff’s deputies arrived. The three-year-old was rushed to Seattle for emergency facial surgery.
Responding to three serious attacks, the city of Yakima prohibited pit bulls from 1987 until September 2018, when the Yakima Humane Society forced a repeal by threatening to give up the community animal control housing contract.
The victim, however, lived in an unincorporated area just west of the city of Yakima, where pit bulls had always been allowed.