As you may well imagine, this is a very difficult topic to discuss. However, the more we collectively understand about an issue, the more likely it is we will be able to effectuate positive change. So, here goes!
Dog fighting is a blood sport which traces its roots back to the Roman Empire during which various types of animals, including bears, were slaughtered in coliseums for the amusement of the spectators. Dogs were later used by the Romans and the British during the Roman conquest of Britain beginning in AD 43. The Romans apparently were so impressed with the British Mastiffs that they brought the dogs back to Rome and used them as entertainment to fight a variety of animals including elephants, lions and bears as well as human gladiators. The animal fighting blood sport includes not just dog fighting but cock fighting, bull fights and bear baiting, among other things.
Animal Fighting is Illegal
Most animal fighting activities are either outright illegal in most countries or are, in the case of bull fighting, heavily debated. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states in the United States and possession of dogs for the purpose of fighting and attending a dog fight are also illegal in most states but state regulations vary widely from state to state.
On a federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”), found at Title 7, Chapter 54 of the US Code, provides some limited protection for animals. Chapter 54 covers “Transportation, Sale, and Handling of Certain Animals” and is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As reported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, these regulations prohibit “animal fighting ventures that involve interstate or foreign commerce.” The regulations were amended in 2014 to prohibit attendance at animal fighting events. In addition to the AWA, the federal law known as the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007 “amended the AWA to prohibit the interstate or foreign commerce of knives and gaffs used in cockfighting derbies. It also amended the criminal code to toughen the penalties for violations of the AWA related to animal fighting ventures. This law was enacted in the wake of the Michael Vick case. Vick was actually prosecuted on federal conspiracy charges” rather than animal cruelty charges.
Fighting does NOT come naturally to dogs
Contrary to what some participants in these activities may want to believe, it is not the animals’ natural instinct to fight each other, especially in the artificially induced stages their handlers set up. Animals, like humans, have a fight or flight response but unless there is some biological imperative, like protection of one’s territory, food, mate or offspring, most animals will avoid a fight. Dogs have to be trained to attack each other through the use of ‘bait’ dogs, reverse-socialization techniques, including keeping dogs in isolation, and the administration of drugs, such as anabolic steroids, to increase aggressive behavior.
Dog fighting facts
Dog fights can be set up anywhere, inside or outside in back alleys and fields, but the more organized fights use a large pit into which the dogs are placed. Dog fighting is often associated with other criminal activities including gambling and illegal drug and firearms use and possession. Fighting dog owners cut, or “dock” their dogs’ ears and tail to minimize places an adversary can bite into and these operations are generally done by the owners themselves without any type of anesthesia rather than by a veterinarian. Fights last from a few minutes to hours and result in serious injuries to the dogs, some of whom recover to fight again and others of whom are discarded or inhumanely killed by the owners as part of the on-going ‘entertainment’.
Dog fighting can be a lucrative activity because of the gambling and betting on the fights and the stud fees charged for fighting dogs. The ASPCA, which, along with other animal welfare organizations, is actively working to stop dog fighting , states “Major dog fight raids have resulted in seizures of more than $500,000, and it is not unusual for $20,000 – $30,000 to change hands in a single fight. Stud fees and the sale of pups from promising bloodlines can also bring in thousands of dollars.”
Because dog fighting is an illegal activity, it is difficult to determine exactly how common it is but organizations such as the Human Society, PETA and the ASPCA estimate that there tens of thousands of dog fighters in the US alone and hundreds of thousands of dogs who are forced to fight. This does not include the dogs who are used as ‘bait’ dogs to teach the fighting dogs to be aggressive. Onpets has previously written about the importance of making sure you do not leave your dog unattended and susceptible to theft because many stolen dogs end up being used as bait dogs .
Harmful effects of dog fighting
Aside from the obvious harm to the dogs themselves, dog fighting is associated with or causes a number of additional negative results including:
- Illegal gambling on the fights
- Engaging in a cruel and inhumane activity
- Engaging in illegal activity
- Use of government resources to track down and eliminate the heinous practice
- Costs associated with trying to rehabilitate former fighting dogs
- Breed specific legislation against dog breeds associated with dog fighting
- The practice of breeding of dogs to fight
- Theft of pets to be used as bait dogs
Fighting dogs can be rehabilitated
If you have ever met a pit bull you will know how loving and loyal they can be. Pit bulls are not the only types of dogs used for fighting. Akita Inus, Neapolitan Mastiffs and Dogo Argentinos are just a few of the other breeds commonly used for this nasty blood sport. Several years ago I rescued a large Dogo Argentino from the street and he could not have been a sweeter baby. All he wanted to do – all emaciated 85 pounds of him – was crawl into my lap. I have also rescued several mastiffs and other large breed dogs and all – without exception – have been sweet, genteel dogs and all of whom I have successfully re-homes into loving forever homes. In other words, although they had been abandoned and were, without exception, emaciated, filthy, flea-infested and thirsty, not one of them displayed any aggression toward me or my other dogs.
Any dog can be trained to be vicious and most dogs who have been used as fighting dogs – or bait dogs – can also, through therapy and care, be re-socialized and rehabilitated to become loving members of a family. We are all familiar with the story of Michael Vick’s dogs, most of whom were successfully rehabilitated and placed in loving forever homes Many national and local rescue groups have programs specifically designed to rehabilitate former fighting dogs. These include the Washington Human Society and the ASPCA working with local veterinarians.
What can you do to help eliminate this horrible practice?
Here are some practical things you can do to help reduce and hopefully eventually eliminate dog fighting:
- Advocate for an end to breed-specific legislation.
- Protect your precious pets from dog-napping. They may end up as bait dogs.
- If you see something suspicious report it!
- Most dog fighters keep their dogs chained so work on anti-tethering efforts and legislation
- Support organizations fighting to end animal fighting practices.
If you want a blood sport, get in the ring yourself!
For those who want to engage in a blood sport, there are options which don’t involve the victimization and torture of innocent animals. Boxing comes to mind and, in some cases, ice hockey and rugby, among other sports. Let’s all work to protect innocent animals from exploitation by those who do not have the moral fiber to make the right decisions themselves.
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