Training dogs to fight is vicious process |

Training dogs to fight is vicious process

Denise Flaim
Vail, CO Colorado

As the Michael Vick scandal has shown, dogfighting isn’t just a bunch of impromptu skirmishes on street corners, where the stakes might be a mere $100 bill.

At its highest levels, it is a polished, organized effort where the bets start at $25,000 and easily can trip into six figures.

“There is an organized world of dogfighting, bound by a dozen magazines and hundreds of Web sites,” said John Goodwin, manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, adding that Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels in Surry County, Va., appears to fall squarely into this category.

Although it has long been entrenched in the rural South, dogfighting has grown in popularity in cities during the last decade. Goodwin says meets are arranged six to eight weeks in advance, with dogs matched by weight. During the interim conditioning period, called “the keep,” dogs run on treadmills to build endurance ” sometimes for hours at a stretch.

Tio Hardiman, founder of the Chicago Campaign to Stop Animal Fighting, catalogs the cruelty that dogfighters use to train their charges.

“Some of them feed the dogs dead bumblebees, so the stingers get caught in the gums, and they won’t give them any water,” he said. When the tormented dog is released after several days, a bait dog is placed in his path.

“Any dog will do,” Hardiman said of the bait dog, an unwilling sparring partner that often is a stolen household pet.

These dogs are deprived of light, water, food and human contact, “so the dog knows the only way he’s going to get anything out of his master is to display that grit.”

Their trainers “don’t have any feelings,” Hardiman said. “You have to be a Roman soldier to train a fighting dog. There are no excuses.”

Still, given the abuse they suffer in human hands, the vast majority of pit bulls are non-aggressive toward people, Hardiman adds. In the logistics of the fighting pit, a dog must be tractable enough to be bathed by his opponent’s team, a pre-fight ritual that ensures he has not been doused with any toxic substances.

Sadly, Hardiman notes, few fighting dogs can be rehabilitated because of the deprivation and brutality of their upbringing.

Traditionally, fighting dogs such as pit bulls come in a variety of sizes, because their most prized quality is not a physical one: It is “gameness,” a reference to the willingness to fight at all costs, against all odds, even to the death.

Dogfighters “kill every puppy in the litter that doesn’t demonstrate a high level of gameness, and they end up taking a bloodline in a direction where they have a high level of game offspring,” Goodwin said.

Still, genetics is not destiny, and “some dogs just don’t have it in them,” Hardiman said. “Some just don’t want to be fighters.”

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