April 10, 2018

We Need to Break the Chain on Dogfighting

pitbull puppy

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker        

Originally posted on Canine Journal

Many people see dogfighting as a relic of our distant past, or a sick phenomenon that ended the day Michael Vick was arrested more than ten years ago. Even if it exists, surely it occurs only in a handful of dark corners of our country, run by individuals too despicable to live as ordinary members of our communities, right?

Sadly, none of those statements are true. In a poll the ASPCA released just this week, we found widespread misperceptions about the prevalence of dogfighting, where it happens and the types of people committing these crimes. We also found misunderstandings about the signs of dogfighting, and even an unwillingness to report suspected dogfighting activity.

For the sake of thousands of animals being tortured and victimized every year, it’s time for a reality check.

The Truth about Dogfighting

In our poll, 57 percent of the respondents believed dogfighting never happens in their community. But dogfighting occurs more often and in more places than most people think, and is more horrific than most can imagine. 

I spent years overseeing and deploying with our ASPCA Anti-Cruelty teams, but am still horrified at stories of animals routinely and viciously attacked, beaten, electrocuted and drowned. I’m also repulsed by the use of “rape stands” for breeding, and “bait dogs” for fighting practice. 

Fighting dogs are typically raised in isolation, spending most of their lives on short, heavy chains. They are regularly conditioned with drugs, including anabolic steroids, to enhance muscle mass and encourage aggressiveness. During fights, these animals suffer puncture wounds, blood loss, crushing injuries and broken bones. Many eventually succumb to their injuries, and losing dogs are often discarded, killed or brutally executed.

A National Problem

These fights can happen anywhere—from farms in Alabama to basements in New York City. In the past eight years, the ASPCA has assisted with approximately 200 dogfighting cases in more than 23 states, impacting nearly 5,000 victims of dogfighting. Last year alone, the ASPCA directly rescued more than 400 animals from dogfighting across 12 states. 

We estimate that people who fight dogs number in the tens of thousands, forcing hundreds of thousands of dogs to train, fight and suffer every year. Dogfights are also connected to gambling, illegal drug and firearm sales and other crimes.

And contrary to stereotypes, dogfighters are often the kinds of people we interact with all the time, including lawyers, teachers, high school football coaches, nurses, veterinary technicians and judges, spanning all racial and socioeconomic lines. There is no “typical” dogfighter; the only qualities they share are callous greed and sadism. 

Recognizing and Responding to Dogfighting

Fewer than a third of poll participants reported being very confident they would recognize the signs of dogfighting, so let’s be clear about what to look for. Signs of dogfighting include dogs with multiple scars, possibly with lips or ears ripped off; dogs on heavy chains, tethered to tire axles or dog houses; a dirt ring around the dog, dogs chained inches apart from one another, and dogs chained or penned in a secluded area intentionally kept out of the public’s view.

When you do suspect dogfighting, what is your first instinct? Contact a shelter or local animal control agency? Post a question or thought online? Bury your head? In our poll, only about half of respondents who’ve suspected dogfighting did the right thing: Call the police. Twenty-five percent did nothing at all. 

There are anti-cruelty laws on the books and it’s the police’s job to enforce them. These calls can even be made anonymously. 

What You Should Do

If you have or know a dog, you understand that dogfighting is the ultimate betrayal—taking that natural love and loyalty, and twisting it to profit from their misery. Some dogs recover and lead happy, comfortable lives. Others are not so fortunate.

These animals need rescue, but deserve protection, which means stopping dogfights before they start. National Dogfighting Awareness Day, April 8, is our annual effort to counter destructive misperceptions with truth, promote lifesaving awareness and encourage reporting to police. This will not only save lives, but reinforce compassion as a driving force and strongly-held value in our culture. 

Of course, especially if you’re reading this, you may not know about a dogfight personally. But somewhere in your community—whether actual or online—someone likely knows someone who does, and may even be involved. So, this year, educate yourself as a first step in educating others. 

Legally, dogfighting is a crime in every state, but it will take communities acting proactively and with determination to break those chains for good.