Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apologists, Your Decade is Done

Everyone will tell you, the history of the pit bull involves some bloody stuff. Some people will tell you, that to keep "the breed pure" you need to keep game testing the dogs. They mean that the only way to tell if a "pit bull" is a "pit bull" is to fight the dog. They mean that the only pit bull worth it's kibble is one that came from dogs that actively fought other dogs, or maybe once or twice removed. Maybe. I've been thinking about discussing my experiences with cock fighting, and now that 2009 is almost over, I'm ready to address it in the context of pit bull fighting apologists. I'm done with it. Fighting is cruelty. There is no valid excuse for fighting dogs. None.

For most of JQP, Michael Vick was the first exposure to fighting rings. They didn't know anything about dog fighting, and quickly realized that dog fighting was egregious. For more knowledgeable pit bull people, he was just a celebrity in the hideous business. But "hard core" pit bull enthusiasts would argue that Vick was somewhere between a wannabe and a sicko- he wasn't doing things the "right way." Here was a guy who drowned his dogs, electrocuted them, etc. "Real" dog fighters have methods of "putting their dogs down" and they treat the injured ones, know how to stitch wounds and proscribe antibiotics. JQP was pissed off about Vick: Sports Illustrated even featured the rescued bulldogs on the cover of the magazine, with a positive story for a change. Since 2007 there have been a bunch of big fight busts, with better and better outcomes for the dogs and less and less public outcomes for the owners/fighters/jerkwads. And last week, Vick was selected by his peers to win the Ed Block Courage Award. So people are getting a chance to talk about him again. Not the issues, but Vick: has he paid his debt? Is he an irredeemable scourge on society? But look at the dogs!? Etc, Etc.

Right now I'm stewing on the apologists. All along with Vick there was the "cultural" debate. Supposedly he was "raised" in a culture where dog fighting was the "norm." (Normative dogfighting? I'd like to see a psychological professional analyze the behavior or someone who tortures animals for a living.) In the animal law enforcement sphere, we are taught, and I have seen, that all different cultural groups participate in animal fighting. Reading back on those links from the pit bull history, you'll see England mentioned, and the US. Dogs (pit bulls and others) are also fought (and have been fought) in the Pacific Islands, in Mexico, Central and South America, Central Asia, Japan (see the Tosa Inu) and China (historical use of the Shar pei). The same is true with rooster fighting. All of these regions have histories of pitting animals against each other. In the United States, we have groups of people from all over the world who maintain varied cultural practices. The vast majority of these people and the vast majority of these practices do NOT involve watching and forcing animals to hurt each other for the entertainment of humans. White people, black people, brown people- all are frequent participants in both pit bull and cock fighting worlds. By saying things like it was Vick's "culture" what exactly does that mean? That his black culture is one of cruelty? Making money off of suffering? And if he had been Chinese, what would say about the culture? Again, this argument is specious to me: the vast majority of people in any group find fighting animals despicable.

I also do not understand the gambling aspect of animal fighting: I have seen dogs fight, not in an organized dog fight. In this business, it happens. I have seen dogs come into the shelter torn up from being attacked by other dogs while they were roaming, or while the other dogs were roaming. The dogs suffer immensely, and get professional vet care. This, for money? I have seen my dog attack another dog. It was terrible. Absolutely among the worst things I would ever have happen. People were drawn to it, to stop it. I could not intentionally cause my dog to kill another dog. I certainly could not watch my dog be almost killed by another dog. It boggles the mind: why raise dogs, condition them, feed them, say they are the only dogs worth feeding, work towards this goal, which is putting them in a "box": a box of pain. There's all this ritual involved, weighing them, putting hands on them to make sure they don't have stuff on them, and then turning the dogs towards each other, all lovey dovey, and then BOOM your dog is tearing another dog up? Or being torn up? And maybe you're just a spectator, but watching these dogs tear each other up? For what? The "good of the breed"? I just don't buy it. Money? Blood lust?

Some people will argue that since pit bulls were bred to fight, they actually enjoy the ring. They are tough, these people say, they hang in till the last breath- doesn't that mean they enjoy it? My experience with many many dogs, and observing lots and lots of dog behavior tells me, no, that's what apologists want to believe, and certainly want other people to believe. Most pit bulls will NOT seek out a fight. Most confident, stable dogs will not seek out a fight, and that's what people look for in a "real" pit bull (that is, people who don't just want to fight dogs because it's kool). A confident, cool as a cucumber pit bull may or may not like other dogs, just like any other dog. But that breed history (see above) is there, and pit bulls have that terrier in them, and they're tenacious, gripping dogs. When they fight, they fight hard and long, and with a gripping bite. That's a serious fight, unfortunately. And when you put a dog with a fuse towards other dogs in a small area, and face them off, and wind them up, and force them into a situation that's going to spark any dog, well, yes, they're going to fight. Does the combination of the fact that the dogs are in an artificially hyped up situation that triggers fighting combined with a never-say-quit bully attitude mean that pit bulls like dog fighting? Yeah, I don't think so. But that's a good try, apologists! (I'm sure the drugs the bulldogs are given help them enjoy the fight, too.)

And what if they *do* like to fight while it's happening? Mac liked biting the dog he bit. Maybe. He was in total adrenaline mode, eyes blown, out of his head. Nothing that normally stops him in his tracks (my hand in his mouth, water on his head) phased him all. This isn't because he has locking jaws of 103867472ppi, it's because he was in super arousal mode. I'm not sure Mac likes that mode at all. He's the laziest, most relaxed dog, who is aroused about once a month when we play tug. I don't think that type of arousal is particularly pleasant for any dog. And even if it WERE "fun" for a dog, it certainly doesn't make the outcome for the other dog ok (he's fine, by the way). At least Mac's victim got professional emergency vet care and wasn't thrown in a pool to be electrocuted, or done up by the "good" dog fighters with home made stitches and off-label antibiotics and pain meds.

And really, how can you keep pit bulls as pit bulls if you don't fight them? They'll be "pet bulls" or "pibbles" or some other terrible awful thing if you don't fight them and test their gameness In The Box. This is the only REAL way to guard against American Bullys, to guard against people like me with the rescue mutts that they pass of as pit bulls and let sleep in the bed. The only pit bull is a gamey, muscular dog who Never Says Die. Honestly, if you read those history links well, there was a lot more to the history than the fighting. Though no one is denying the fighting heritage anymore, no one (except pit bull haters) is denying the other heritage too- the family dog, the Army companion, etc. Pit bulls ARE athletic and enduring and gripping and wonderfully tough. But fighting them is obsolete, kind of like dueling for honor with pistols in the street (although sometimes I feel like I live in the Wild Wild West). If we want to make sure we're still breeding working dogs, there is plenty of work pit bulls can and DO do. And there's plenty of pit bulls. We don't really need to do nearly as much breeding as we're doing, I'm sure all the dogs that are being fought to justify breeding, well, we don't need to breed those, so there's nothing to justify. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of pit bulls to go around.

I may have believed little pieces of these nice excuses- that's what they are, excuses for really piss poor behavior. I never thought dog fighting was ok, or that we needed it to "save" my breed of choice. But, over a year ago, I busted a cock fight that was actually happening. Like, people scattering everywhere, hiding in the attic, cops with guns drawn. It was exciting and awful, and a learning experience- my agency is still figuring out exactly how to handle these large scale events. I now believe that people who defend dog fighting either haven't seen it and are glorifying what they "believe," or need to rethink their priorities and psychological health. All of the same possible excuses exist that I've just listed for pit bulls. Like pit bulls, I'm sure it could be argued that roosters like to fight each other. I'm not a chicken expert, but, you know, they're roosters. I believe they're flock protectors and all around mean little dudes, because that's their job. It could be cultural: many places have strong histories of cock fighting. And people who fight their cocks love these birds. I've seized many many many roosters that aren't actively being fought- they're being conditioned, like a pit bull, and they are sleek, shiny, well fed, handled daily, etc.

That fight was ... I don't know how to describe it without resorting to graphic words or gruesome, overused triteness. There were warm, dead birds piled in a hole. 37 of them. They were slashed torn hanging bloody. There were a few live, barely alive, birds. There were birds with spurs still on that could practically take off your finger. (Knowing me, they probably would have taken off my finger.) We found a gun hidden in the couch and lots and lots of porn. A man was selling food, and had already made $500. People were eating meat while watching birds kill and dismember each other. There were empty beer cans and bottles carefully placed in 2 oil drums for recycling. Filling two oil drums. The ring was not temporary- it was built into the floor. There were children there. The birds were slashed up. And there were at least 100 more roosters in box, "waiting their turn." Gambling chits everywhere.

I'd like to speak to apologists, at the scene, to have them explain to me what they're REALLY thinking. If, if they're trying to preserve the breed, what that means for the individual dog. If they're doing it because they were raised around fighting, if they ever questioned what they were doing. I'd like to know if they stopped fighting after one of their favorite dogs lost. Or if they actually let themselves get attached to the dogs, knowing the possible outcomes. If they really think that a rooster with his thigh with a 3" deep flesh wound is enjoying his fight. If the gambling money is worth it. If it's about the adrenaline: getting away with 50 fights, only to be caught the 51st time. If it's the excitement of getting away with a lie: knowing that the officers know you're involved and that they can't get you, that you'll go to jail for some charge about money, because that's what happened to Vick, or that if you drop your paraphernalia fast enough, all they can get you with is spectator, which is a minor misdemeanor. And I'd like to tell the internet apologists that this is real. Real animals suffering. Real children being raised in a culture: a culture of violence. Totally preventable, totally stoppable. A culture of torture is ridiculous and outdated.

2010: no more excuses.


Dognerd said...

I miss you Lauren!

Rinalia said...

Thanks for this post.

Roosters certainly do not love fighting any more than a pit bull "loves" fighting. Having been around fighting roosters, including several rehabilitated ones, I know they have varying personalities just like pit bulls from fight busts. Some like other roosters just fine, some can learn to tolerate other roosters, while others will forever be a one-rooster sort of dude. And that should be okay. We have about fifteen roosters at the sanctuary where I work and it's mostly display and reinforced pecks here and there. Every now and then, we do have to permanently separate a rooster b/c he's being picked on or is too aggressive. That's totally okay - I don't expect a rooster to like every rooster anymore than I expect my dog to like every dog she meets.

The idea that because something is "cultural"that it should be preserved is ridiculously offensive. Abhorrent, violent behavior is what it is and excusing it in favor of preserving "culture" is illogical, at best.

Sarah said...

Great post, thank you for writing this.

I was recently called upon to help in the aftermath of a damaging fight between two pit bulls. It was not an intentional fight, but an accident caused by a careless owner who didn't learn after the previous fight. It was awful, one of the worst things I've ever seen. Both dogs were bleeding, shaken and shocked. You could say that both dogs were good at fighting - they each succeeded in inflicting serious injury on the other - but I can't for a minute believe that they enjoyed it. They both seemed relieved when humans intervened so that they didn't have to fight anymore, and neither showed any signs of wanting to return to the fight.

EmilyS said...

This really really needs to be said. Repeatedly.

good post.