Monday, May 4, 2009

Let's talk about the Alabama bust

I can't resist playing devil's advocate with the media from time to time. I hesitate because it sucks when people I take up for end up being guilty, which has happened before. But the level of ignorance displayed in many dogfighting bust stories does not fill me with confidence in the judgment of law enforcement. Most of the time, even with the best of training from HSUS, they don't know what they looking at when it comes to pit bulls, dog yards, and equipment.

Let's take this recent bust in Alabama as an example. This situation has many of the hallmarks of a dogfighting operation. But - I have to say But - there's a lot of misinformation and possibly a healthy dose of pit bull prejudice here as well.

The key to thinking this person is a dogfighter seems to be the fact that police uncovered a treadmill. I could repeat myself with almost every supposed dogfighting bust story - but treadmills, springpoles, and so forth are also used by breeders and pit bull enthusiasts who want to exercise their dogs. They do not equal dogfighting.

Ok, so I'm looking at the condition of the dogs which is mostly good and normal. We can see that the one dog has a skinned nose. That happens, and it's not a big deal. Dogs can scrape their noses on chain link, on their houses or digging. Needs a little peroxide and neosporin. I wonder if they've taken care of that at the shelter? I kind of doubt it since shelters, if they even use vets at all, are busy taking care of *serious* injuries and illnesses.

The dog that is missing hair on the back legs looks bad. That can happen from fleas, demodectic mange, chain rubs, and just living in the dirt. It needs to be treated, yes, and it seems likely that the owner was neglecting this dog. But these minor, non-life-threatening marks on the dogs do not equal dogfighting. As an aside, I knew some folks who had a dog that ended up losing hair on his back legs like that after they started feeding Canidae. The hair didn't grow back until they went back to TimberWolf. This may be a very unlikely scenario, but the point is, we just don't know. Anyone who raises or houses a number of animals will have some animals with minor injuries. Critters get in scrapes just like kids get banged up; it can be from abuse, but it isn't necessarily. If there are other wounds or scars on these dogs that somehow add up to dogfighting (in addition to neglect or cruelty), the camera doesn't show them, which makes me think that maybe they aren't there.

The story says that the dogs are malnourished, and although it doesn't look like it from the short video, it's hard to tell. But malnourishment would not be typical of fighting dogs. What that is typical of is neglect - AND - animal rescuers who do not know the difference between an athletic dog and a malnourished dog.

There's also the perpetuation of the idea that chained dogs must be fighting dogs, or bred for fighting. The dog warden is saying that the dogs were all on heavy chains and they can't play with each other. I hear something like this and I just want to stab myself. Chaining dogs separately is one way - maybe not the preferred way - but it's one way of keeping dogs safe and secure. Then there's the shelter worker saying that the dogs want to "eat other dogs up" (which does not bode well for those dogs). But dog-aggression doesn't mean the dogs were bred for fighting. Really, it doesn't. Chaining dogs along with some amount of dog aggression is just not unusual among people who have gamedogs, but very, very common -- much more common than dogfighting.

Certainly, this dude might be guilty as fuck, and if what is being said is true, he is a huge asshole for sure. But there are enough chinks in the story that it really makes me wonder. The misinformation in regard to pit bulls, chains, slight injuries, body condition, and exercise equipment - it's ridiculously rampant among supposed "animal professionals" when the truth is out there on any number of websites, message boards and books. These officers and prosecutors know enough to be dangerous - enough to take people's dogs and inflame the public. Most of them don't want to hear the other side that I'm presenting because it's all about wanting to seize the dogs and get that conviction. Dogfighting is the go-to red herring when (1) the animals in question look to be pit bulls, and (2) the people in question look to be working-class and/or people of color. Throw in some chains or a treadmill, and the people and the dogs both are fucked.

The perspective I'm sharing is usually dismissed as an attempt to provide a cover or smokescreen for dogfighters - but at least in my case it's actually about protecting the dogs and also some semblance of civil rights. The question that everyone should be focused on is whether dogs in cases like these are better off being seized. It's not the only option. The owner could be required to seek veterinary care for the dogs, or the dogs could be carefully monitored and evaluated by behaviorists and veterinarians on-site, as the evidence of dogfighting or other crimes is evaluated. There is some risk of evidence tampering or flight in doing this, but if the priority is in fact the safety of the dogs instead of convictions, it's worth considering. I can tell you with almost complete certainty that the dogs are not better off languishing in the shelter for possibly a year or more as the case drags on.

I think that most people feel that regardless of whether the owner is a dogfighter or not, the dogs are better off either in middle-class homes or dead (and most people would prefer dead). And that's really the crux of the issue and a huge problem for anyone concerned with animal welfare and social justice.


  1. Great post. Though I'm sure the "new and improved" H$U$ will vouch for these dogs and make sure none of them get euthed.

    HA! I couldn't even say that with a straight face. It's sad.

  2. Oh noes, a treadmill! He must watch Cesar Milan.

    We were talking recently about flirt poles on one dog group or another that I'm a member of. Somebody was looking for ways to exercise a dog. But flirt poles, though they're used by a wide variety of dog owners, are considered "Dog fighting paraphernalia" in some places and this dog was a bully-looking creature. It's absurd. Dog forbid a pit bull owner want to have a healthy, athletic, well-conditioned, well-exercised dog.

    Maybe this guy is a dog fighter and maybe he's not. But either way, what the media is convicting him on is really freaking poor evidence.

  3. Yeah, you're right, those dogs do look pretty healthy except for the one with the nose scrape and the other with the missing fur on its butt - not really signs of dog fighting injuries.

    I just hope they don't end up all getting gassed.

  4. i totally agree- none of these things alone, or even together, make a dog fighter. there are charges here, in these things you've mentioned that could be brought- neglect, possibly cruelty, maybe? i'm always hesitant to go with seizure right away- but i also don't how this investigation played out. i like to work with people- hey, can we get these dogs vet care? i'll come back in a couple days, and if it's not taken care of, we're going to be talking about citations, or more serious measures. of course, it's easy to whatever it's called quarterback, from here, but it's also not an unlikely call to think that maybe the investigators were jumping to JUST a few conclusions :/

    i really resent the paranoia in the online pit bull community, but when i see investigations like this, i totally see where it's coming from.

  5. you're right, macinator - there very may well be very bad things that went unreported. the bullshit may in large measure be coming from the media rather than investigators. there are lots of animal control officers with the good sense and experience to know what's up - but the people they interviewed in this piece didn't seem to know what they were talking about *at all*

  6. I follow various criminal cases in the media out of interest. Typically the police/prosecutors do not release to the press all the evidence they have against a suspect. There are laws specific to each state as to how much info is to be released to the public and when. At the time of the arrest, it's common to have only a small bit of info for release to the media.

  7. True, YesBiscuit! and best to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Of course they can't reveal anything that might compromise a case. I don't think this particular person has been arrested yet - which is interesting, since his dogs have already been taken.

  8. From:

    "Aquinaldo Tabb, 29, was arrested on drug paraphernalia and stolen property charges. Felony animal cruelty charges were also filed against Tabb, police said. Bond was set at $15,000."