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.
This Week in Animal Rights (Oct. 7, 2019)
5 days ago