Sports fans and animal lovers alike reacted with shock and horror in 2007 when Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, was convicted for operating a dog fighting ring. Since his arrest, dog fighting investigations have spiked. A Huffington Post article reports that, though the number of dog fighting investigations has increased each year since 2004, it jumped dramatically in Philadelphia after Vick signed with the Eagles. Is this because of greater public awareness, reporting, and increased enforcement, or because new animal abusers looking to make money have been drawn to the sport?
What Is Dog Fighting?
Dog fighting is a contest that pits two dogs—most often pit bull terriers—against one another until one dies or is unable to continue. The dogs are bred to instinctively fight to the death, even despite great pain, in matches that typically last up to two hours. Spectators, which often include children who become inured to violence and animal cruelty, cheer on their favorites and place illegal bets on the winners. The dogs frequently die of their injuries at the time of the fight or hours later, or—in the case of not being suitable for future fights—they are killed by burning or drowning at the hands of their owners. Though the Humane Society of America reports that organized dog fighting has decreased in recent years, street dog fighting is gaining popularity, especially among young men in at-risk neighborhoods.
Drugs, Crime, and Dog Fighting
Dog fighting rings are closely related to drugs and other crimes, such as illegal gambling. Dog owners often bet large amounts of money on fights—$10,000 per fight, on average—which must be protected with guns. Newspapers have reported the prevalence of criminal activity at dog fights, such as drugs and even murder. Because of the brutality and shocking cruelty of dog fighting, it is now a felony in all 50 states and U.S. territories, except American Samoa, where the sport is still legal. In some states, owning dogs for fighting or being a spectator at a dog fight is only a misdemeanor, but animals rights organizations are working to change that.
The horrors of the dog fighting world for the animals involved go beyond spending a life chained up, sustaining brutal injuries with little or no care, and potentially being starved, burned to death, or drowned at a young age. Dogs bred for fighting who don’t quite have the killer instinct are turned into “bait dogs” that are used to rile up the fighters. In January 2010, a pit bull puppy was found wandering in Philadelphia with her broken jawbone jutting through her lower mouth and bones showing under her skin. She was rescued, but most bait dogs are killed in the ring or abandoned to die. Animal Alliance of New Jersey has successfully rescued only ten bait dogs since 2002, though it is estimated that 150 to 250 dog fights are held each month in New Jersey alone.
Several organizations have developed programs to help end dog fighting. After signing Michael Vick—who now works with the Humane Society and tours schools and community groups to talk about the mistakes he made—the Philadelphia Eagles worked to raise awareness and end dog fighting by donating to the Humane Society End Dog-fighting campaign. The program, which is active in several cities, recruits former dog fighters and at-risk young pit bull owners for weekly training sessions with their pets.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has set up dog fighting hotlines to make reporting suspected abusers easier. The Humane Society offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of dog fighters. We all can help, not only by supporting the organizations that work against dog fighting, but locally, by knowing what to look for and how to report violators in our own communities.