Pit Bulls: Reclaiming America’s Dog

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Queenie, a five-year-old pit bull, is currently up for adoption in Palo Alto. Before finding a foster home, she spent a year in a shelter after being picked up as a stray.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the nature of this subject, this story may be difficult for some readers.
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If trees could talk, the woods behind 1915 Moonlight Road would have some stories to tell. In the shadows of the white Virginia mini-mansion, the basketball court and the above-ground swimming pool, these trees saw everything that no one was supposed to see. They saw the sheds painted pitch black, windows and all. They watched on those nights in the offseason when, at around 2 a.m., two pit bulls would follow two men up a path to the biggest of the four sheds. Then the all-black door would slam shut. Leaving everyone, even the trees, in the dark.

A “hero” shut that door. A man named Michael Vick slammed it in the face of the world. At the time, Vick was the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons and nothing short of an icon. He was arguably football’s most exciting player and when he hit the field, fans across America watched his every move. Vick knew this, but he also knew that in the woods behind his house in Surry County, Va., no one was looking. It was just him, his friends and his dogs.

What went on inside that shed was kept quiet. Nobody knew, nobody cared. It concerned only a few men and their stake in the money. But four years ago, USDA officers and Virginia State Police kicked that door down and the world saw everything. Investigators found a blood-stained rug dumped in the woods and blood stains on the floor and on the walls of the largest shed. By the window they found a single white dog tooth.

There it was, in the clear, for the entire world to see. Michael Vick had fought dogs. He did it for money, for respect, but most of all, he did it for fun.

This scene opened the world’s eyes to one of the largest illegal sports in the world. It also opened the world’s eyes to a breed surrounded by misunderstanding, myth and fear.

Dog fighting is a blood sport, which is a competition that involves violence against animals. Bull fighting, cockfighting and fox hunting are all included in this category. Dog fighting thrives on the human desire to observe violence, but be safe from its effects. It’s a competition with champions and trophies. There are magazines about the winners and the latest fights. Winners walk away with bragging rights and pride, but it is not like other sports.

Aside from a reputation issue, in many areas pit bulls are subject to BSL, or breed specific legislation. In 2000, the city of Denver passed a law that made it illegal to “own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport or sell any pit bull within the city.” According to Your Dog newsletter, dog bite data kept by Denver Animal Care and Control does not match the law. In 1992, pit bulls accounted for nine reported bites within the city limits. Chow chows and their mixes accounted for 210, Labradors and their mixes accounted for 167 and poodles and their mixes accounted for 20. Over a decade later, Denver Animal Care and Control was recording new statistics for pit bulls within the city limits. Between 2005 and 2010, they impounded 3,232 pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Some of those were returned to their owners, but, without the legal right to put them up for adoption, the shelter euthanized 2,135 pit bulls.

Some California cities have also implemented BSL that requires all pit bulls to be spayed or neutered. San Francisco is one such city that recently enacted BSL.