Dog Fighting: The Pit of Despair

Down a lonely alley, tucked away in a seemingly abandoned warehouse, there is a world of violence, pain, and greed. Being entertained are people of all ages, social classes, and races. For the sake of money and pride, there are victims suffering mutilation and death. These victims are dogs. Dogs deprived of a life of chasing a ball, walking at the park, and barking at squirrels. Dogs bred to hate and be hated. Dogs deserving of so much more.

History of Dog Fighting

Accounts of dog fighting date back to the 1750s, but its popularity boomed in 1835 when bull-baiting (fighting of bulldogs with larger animals, such as bulls and bears) was declared illegal in England. At that time enthusiasts of animal fighting began to fight their dogs.

The strength of the bulldogs was combined with the speed of the terriers to produce the Bull Terriers, which are talented fighters. American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and American Pit Bull Terriers were other ancestors popular in the fighting ring. All these dogs are referred to as pit bulls, named for their performances in the fighting pits.

Dog Fighting Today

Driven by money and a sick passion for torture, there is a diverse group of people behind fighting dogs today. From laborers to lawyers, high school drop-outs to college graduates, children to adults….the illegal fighting ring attracts many.

It is estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 people participate in dog fighting today. Sadly, the "sport" is a multibillion dollar industry. Large amounts of money (often more than $500,000) are found during raids of this illegal activity. It is not unusual for tens of thousands of dollars to be turned over during bets on the fights. Dogs with a successful fighting history are bred, and the pups, which are sold for fighting, also bring in thousands of dollars.

It is easy to see that dog fighting is fueled by greed. Money and sadistic entertainment cloud the reality of this cruelty. The pain and suffering of the dogs is glorified, seen as a sacrifice to the owners.

The Dogs

Not every dog can be a fighting dog. The ideal fighter is muscular and athletic with an extreme drive of aggression toward other dogs. Most dogs in an everyday squabble will back off when one rolls over and shows submission. Fighting dogs are aggressive through submission signals and through their own pain.

Many breeds are used in fighting; however, in the United States, the American Pit Bull Terrier is the most popular. Outside of professional fighting, in situations like street fighting, breeds such as the German Shepherd and Doberman are also used.

Dogs raised to fight live a life of misfortune. Their owners are committed purely to designing a warrior; aggression and strength are the goals. Beginning at an early age, these pups are attached to heavy, short chains or kept in small, stacked cages. They are sometimes loaded with drugs such as steroids and narcotics to build muscle and anger. Starvation, abuse, and lack of socialization are other methods used to increase aggression.

To provide less opportunity for wounds and to mask the emotions and intentions of a fighting dog, the ears and tails are cropped and docked extremely short. Often the owners perform these procedures themselves, in order to avoid contact with a veterinarian.

A problem which has become more recognized and feared in recent years is the theft of small pets by fighters to use as bait for their dogs. Fighting dogs are given small pets to kill as a reward, fighting practice, and to encourage their desire for the taste of blood.

Types of Dog Fights

According to law enforcement, there are three types of dog fighting: street, hobbyist, and professional.

Street fights are the cruelest of the three. These battles exist without rules or regulations. They occur in alleys, parks, backyards, etc. These fights are usually not planned and are often triggered by a disagreement or threat between owners. There is no concern for the dogs involved at all; the dogs are simply there to fight the owner's battles and inflate their egos. Drugs and gangs are often tied to these fights.

Hobbyist fighters usually give slightly better care to their dogs than street fighters. Hobbyist fighters participate in a few organized fights a year as a hobby and/or for financial gain. This group often travels out of state for the dog fights.

Professional dog fighters have a very large quantity of dogs used for fighting and breeding, which are usually their main source of income. They pay close attention to bloodlines of talented fighters, and they inhumanely destroy dogs who do not fight well.

Pit Fighting

The "sport" of organized dog fighting is sick and gut-wrenching. The activities that occur inside the pit of a dog fight are enough to infuriate any dog lover. Through education and awareness, it is that anger that fuels the race to eliminate dog fighting.

Organized dog fights can happen anywhere and anytime. Because dog fights stir up controversy and are illegal in most areas, the fights are typically held in secret locations, and they are not openly advertised.

The fight takes place in a pit that is approximately 15 to 20 square feet and enclosed with materials such as fencing, hay bales, plywood, etc. There are two lines drawn 12 to 14 feet apart at which the dogs stand and face one another to begin their competition.

The dogs are often weighed before the fight in order to match up competitors of similar size. They are also bathed pre-fight to clean them of any substances on their coats which may discourage the opponent from biting.

When the fight begins, the dogs are released from their start lines, and they tear after one another, working to get their powerful jaws around their enemy. These fights sometimes last multiple hours, ending with bleeding, broken, exhausted, and sometimes dead dogs.
The dogs are not permitted to be touched by people during the battle, unless the referee permits it. If a dog gets a tooth stuck in the skin of the opponent (termed "fanged"), the fight can be paused for someone to untangle the dogs. Sometimes a tool called a "bite stick" is required to separate them.

If the fight is winding down or one dog is losing interest, the referee can decide to return the dogs to their lines and release them again after several seconds. If the dog who was losing interest does not resume fighting, he loses. If neither dog chooses to fight, a draw may be called.

At the end of the fight, there is an exchange of large quantities of money based on bets and the results of the fight. Emotions are high, people are loud and often intoxicated, and the dogs are either celebrated or despised based on their performances. Losing dogs are often left to suffer with their wounds, or they may be destroyed inhumanely in front of the cheering crowd.

All 50 states, Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have declared dog fighting illegal. In Idaho and Wyoming, it is a misdemeanor; it is a felony everywhere else. Even those who are simply watching a dog fight for entertainment can be persecuted in 48 states. Being a spectator is only legal in Georgia and Hawaii.

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Act, passed by the Senate on April 10, 2007 and signed by President Bush on May 3, 2007 is a huge landmark in the crackdown on animal cruelty. According to the Humane Society of the United States, this bill "provides felony penalties for interstate commerce, import and export related to animal fighting activities, including commerce in cockfighting weapons. It will make it much harder for criminals who engage in dogfighting and cockfighting to continue their operations."

How Dog Fighting Affects You

You may live in a seemingly safe neighborhood where you have never seen any sign of animal fighting. Even in the most innocent of communities, you should always be careful. People involved in animal fighting will steal pets to use in their cruel activities. Supervise your pets when they are outdoors, and be cautious of strangers. If your pet spends time in a fenced area, lock the entrances.

Poor breeding and socialization amongst fighting dogs are leading to increasing attacks of dogs on humans. A poorly bred dog in a shelter or a stray on the street from a bloodline of fighting dogs may be a threat to the innocent people around him. Street fighting dogs may be a threat when out for a walk or at the park.

What You Can Do

If you are appalled by the practices of dog fighting, please do your part to help end the suffering. Every voice counts. Listed below are several ways to help.

1. Write letters to state legislators in Idaho and Wyoming to make dog fighting a felony, and write to legislators in Hawaii and Georgia to make being a spectator illegal.

2. Educate the public and spread awareness of animal fighting cruelty.

3. Be alert to suspicious situations in your neighborhood, and do NOT be afraid to report them to law enforcement.

4. Contact the Humane Society of the United States to receive educational posters about the cruelties of dog fighting. These posters can be displayed in public locations to spread awareness.

5. Donate your time and money to your local Humane Society. Help provide them with the resources to rescue these suffering dogs.