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Cops crack down on dog fighting - Authorities say interest in illegal sport on rise

By Craig Garrett / The Detroit News

LIVONIA -- Police continue to crack down on dog-fighting rings that thrive in some Wayne County communities.  A 37-year-old Livonia man is the latest person charged with animal cruelty after police found battle-scarred and nearly starved dogs and graphic videotapes of dog fights at his home.
   Others in Canton Township have been charged with running an illegal dog-fighting operation that landed several men in jail this year. Detroit and Inkster police have collectively seized hundreds of pit bulls from organized drug and dog-fighting rings in undercover raids.  Several hundred other dogs are dropped off at animal shelters or left for dead in vacant lots. Considered by police in the 1980s to have lost its attraction, authorities say dog fighting has increased in recent years. Lured by gambling profits and a lust for blood sport, it's estimated that about 40,000 people witness or participate in staged dog fights annually. Internet sites dedicated to dog fighting and underground magazines on the topic are flourishing. There is no apparent reason for the resurgence, although authorities point to the booming national economy, coupled with the popularity of dog fighting among drug dealers and some people in rural communities. "Unfortunately, it's a way for people to make money. Breeding (fighting) dogs and fighting them, a person can make thousands of dollars," said Kevin Jones, an animal cruelty investigator for the Michigan Humane Society.  Jones, a former Detroit police officer, said the Humane Society this year alone will confiscate and euthanize several hundred pit-bull dogs. Pit bulls often are deemed unadoptable and are often put to death within a few hours of coming to the Detroit animal shelter near East Grand Boulevard, he said. A female pit bull dropped off by a Detroit couple Tuesday was euthanized in less than 10 minutes.
   
Dog of choice

   Most everyone agrees that pit bulls are the dog of choice in dog-fighting circles. Whether they're used to fight or train other dogs, pit bulls most commonly are confiscated by local authorities. The muscular animals in packs once fought lions and bears in staged events. Dog fighters say the dogs show more "game" than any other animal, meaning they can often fight to the death without losing tenacity. Livonia Police Lt. Ben McDermott said a videotape he viewed showed pit bulls engaged in ferocious, bloody fighting. Jones said one legendary pit bull owned by an alleged Detroit drug dealer could outlast his opponents well beyond human endurance. The drug dealer was killed in a dispute over dogs, Jones said. "(The dog) could fight up to two hours. Everyone (in dog-fighting circles) was very mad when we put (the pit bull) down," he said. The problem may be that while they're loathed in some circles, pit bulls are revered in others. In fact, the mascot for the U.S. Marine Corps is a hefty black pit bull named John Wayne, and some schools use the dog as a symbol of toughness on the football field.  The dog also seems to grab headlines around the country. Any time a dog attack occurs, television and newspaper pictures are likely to show a picture of a pit bull, whether the animal was a pit bull or not, says Marie Matulis, a member of an online pit bull rescue group.  "The perception is that they're killers, and that's simply not true. Around people, they're very loving," said Matulis, an Indiana woman who adopts wounded or rescued fighting dogs. Matulis said dog bite statistics reveal there are about two national fatalities a month from dog attacks.
   
Defenders rescue dogs
   Some animal rights activists have started defending pit bulls and other fighting dogs since tougher community laws were enacted to ban or limit the ownership of pit bulls. Sheila Salmi started an online rescue program in the last couple of years. She saved about 60 pit bulls from a fighting career or the needle of an animal shelter worker.  She suggests that pit bulls aren't to blame for the bad rap they get. In fact, they make great house pets, she said.  "They are the most loyal, protective dogs you'll encounter. Besides, somebody has to love them," she said.

You can reach Craig Garrett at (313) 561-9646 or at cgarrett@detnews.com

 

 

 

BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION

"Legislation is due, laws are in order, and the situation is out of hand. Let's be sure of our focus. Laws are for humans, not for animals who have no say about the captive environment they must endure."Rod Jones

Banning Pit Bulls would be like banning cars because people get killed in car accidents! Who's responsible, the car or the driver/manufacturer? Any car can be deadly in the wrong hands or if built with defective parts. Same thing with dogs... Any dog. Pit Bulls are no more responsible for the way they are bred, raised and trained, than cars are responsible for the way they are designed, built and driven.

Simply put, the best argument against breed bans is that they are costly and ineffective. Breed bans are often a knee-jerk reaction from politicians who want to say they are "doing something", after a highly publicized dog attack (of any breed). This is a useless exercise. What kind of message are we telling abusive and irresponsible individuals when legislation makes the dogs pay the price for their action?

Criminals habitually break laws, so having an "illegal breed" may indeed be attractive to undesirable individuals and entice them to breed and sell more "illegal dogs". If their dog is confiscated and killed, they don't care. They will just get another one because BSL punishes the dog, not the owner.

On the other hand, law abiding and responsible owners, whose dogs love people and have never done anything wrong, can see their homes invaded, often without a search warrant, and their beloved family member dragged away (in front of their children) to be killed. Not because the dog was unstable or mean, but simply because of its breed. Meanwhile, the owners of truly dangerous dogs (of any breed) escape punishment because their breed is not targeted by legislation and therefore believed "safe".

A 10 Lbs Pomeranian killed a baby a few years ago... Obviously a problem with that particular dog, not the breed. "The baby's uncle left the infant and the dog on a bed while the uncle prepared her bottle in the kitchen. Upon his return, the dog was mauling the baby, who died shortly afterwards. ("Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog," Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 9, 2000, Home Edition, Metro Section, Page B-5.)"

Because of a serious lack of regulation in dog breeding many dogs inherit defective genes and are sold to irresponsible owners. A breed ban will not resolve the problem. This non sense will continue with the next macho breed and will become an endless race between breed specific legislators and unscrupulous breeders.

A Pit Bull breeder was shut down last year because Pit Bulls were banned in Topeka, Kansas. All his dogs were seized and destroyed just for being the wrong breed at the wrong place. The man now breeds "African Boerboel", a rare breed from the Mastiff family, completely unknown to legislators. Unlike American Pit Bull Terriers however, who are known for their love of people, Boerboels are serious guard dogs bred specifically as protectors. A poorly bred and irresponsibly owned Boerboel might actually be more dangerous than a poorly bred and irresponsibly owned Pit Bull. This is what a breed ban has accomplished in Topeka...

Another good example is the Pressa Caniaro. 10 years ago no one had heard of those dogs. We now find them in local shelters, picked up as strays in the streets. Ironically, the breed became popular after two of them killed Diane Whipple in California - By portraying them as vicious and blood thirsty beasts the media has turned them into the new "dog du jour" among gangsters and thugs.

Here are some facts to consider:

"Pit bull" is not a breed, but a "type" that encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds. Therefore, statistics that claim "Pit bulls" are responsible for some percentage of attacks are lumping many breeds together, then comparing that to other dogs that are counted as individual breeds.

Breed identification is left up to victim and witness testimony, and is often wrong. Due to negative press, biting dogs of almost ANY breed have been called "Pit bulls". Try this little quiz for fun: Find the Pit Bull - See how many people you know can pick out a pit bull from pictures, let alone in the middle of an attack.

    Search the Center for Disease Control site. Even the CDC supports the position that irresponsible owners, not breed, are the chief cause of dog bites. They have done studies that indicate that the most "dangerous breed" of dog changes with popularity and reputation.

    Search the American Temperament Test Society. Pit bulls have an average score that beats even the "ultimate family dog", the Golden Retriever.
  • Positive pit bull press - This site shows not only what the breed is about, but the difference responsible ownership makes. Many of these pages are "Pit bull rescue makes good" stories. This site features, among other great stuff, rescue pits that are saving human lives in Search and Rescue and US Customs Service.

    The Diane Whipple case. One of the first times the owner has been held responsible for the actions of their dog. Note that the breed involved was the Perro de Presa Canario (Canary Dog) from Spain, yet the brunt of the negative press again targeted the pit bull, an all but unrelated breed.

  • The message is clear; lets stop targeting the dogs! Pit Bulls are no more dangerous than any strong and large dog. They just happen to attract more irresponsible and abusive owners than any other breed... Do Pit Bull haters really think that a global breed ban would convince criminals who use these dogs as weapons to own Basset Hounds? And if they did, how long do you think it would take before Basset Hounds start making the news?

    A breed ban will only remove Pit Bulls from good people's homes and leave them in the hands of animal abusers who couldn't care less about the law... Better think twice before supporting such measure...

    WHEN BREED SHOULD BE IGNORED - HSUS's position on the issue
     
     
     
     
     
     
    VICIOUS PIT BULLS / Here's the problem
    Published: Thursday, September 20, 2007

    State Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough appropriately turned tail on his plan to allow towns to muzzle pit bulls after receiving information that breed-specific municipal laws could violate state law.

    But the bill was not only potentially illegal, but misdirected. It targeted the wrong species. The problem isn't a specific breed of dog - it's a specific type of human. That's what lawmakers and police should be going after - not someone's pet pit bull that's well-treated and friendly. Or a Rottweiler, or Doberman pinscher, or German shepherd, or any other breed for that matter.

    Consider the headlines few days after McCullough pulled his idea: A Vineland police officer was charged with animal cruelty after investigators seized emaciated dogs from his pit bull breeding operation for a fourth time. Three times before, Vineland Officer Richard Cotto was convicted of animal neglect. And although there is no evidence that Cotto himself is involved in illegal dog fighting, the Humane Society says the operation fits the profile of a breeder of fighting dogs. Dogs are often fed little and neglected between fights, then quickly brought into fighting shape with supplements.

    Vineland police suspended Cotto when he pleaded guilty to animal-neglect charges in June.

    "I think the public sees it correctly," said Police Capt. Paul Letizia, Cotto's supervisor. "It's a serious matter."

    It sure is. Police are now reviewing the current evidence against Cotto before taking further disciplinary action. They should continue to treat this is as a very serious matter. And animal-cruelty investigators - who tried unsuccessfully to close the dog-breeding operation this summer - should get whatever help they need in shutting down this operation.

    The Vineland case illustrates why breed-specific legislation is so ill-founded. This is the problem - not the dog, but certain owners and breeders.

    Are therecertain breeds of dogs that are more likely to be aggressive than other breeds of dogs? Sure, lots of them. And without doubt, there is a problem with vicious pit bulls - who not only are used in illegal dog-fighting but have found favor with some involved in drug and gang activity. But even Lassie would turn nasty with when maltreated, abused or otherwise encouraged to be aggressive.

     

     

     

    VICIOUS PIT BULLS / Here's the problem
    Published: Thursday, September 20, 2007

    State Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough backpedalled on his plan to allow towns to muzzle pit bulls after getting word that breed-specific municipal laws could violate state law.

    Good. The bill was not only potentially illegal, but misdirected. It targeted the wrong species. The problem isn't a specific breed of dog - it's a specific type of human. That's what lawmakers and police should be going after - not someone's pet pit bull that's well-treated and friendly. Or a Rottweiler, or Doberman pinscher, or German shepherd, or any other breed for that matter.

    Consider the headlines few days after McCullough pulled his idea: A Vineland police officer was charged with animal cruelty after investigators seized emaciated dogs from his pit bull breeding operation for a fourth time. Three times before, Vineland Officer Richard Cotto was convicted of animal neglect. Although there is no evidence that Cotto himself is involved in illegal dog fighting, the Humane Society says the operation fits the profile of a breeder of fighting dogs. Dogs are often fed little and neglected between fights, then quickly brought into fighting shape with supplements.

    Vineland police suspended Cotto when he pleaded guilty to animal-neglect charges in June.

    "I think the public sees it correctly," Police Capt. Paul Letizia, Cotto's supervisor, said. "It's a serious matter."

    It sure is. Police are now reviewing the current evidence against Cotto before taking further disciplinary action. They should continue to treat this is as a very serious matter. And animal-cruelty investigators - who tried unsuccessfully to close the dog-breeding operation this summer - should get whatever help they need in shutting down this operation.

    The Vineland case illustrates why breed-specific legislation is so ill-founded. This is the problem - not the dog, but certain owners and breeders.

    Are there certain breeds of dogs that are more likely to be aggressive than other breeds of dogs? Sure, lots of them. Without doubt, there is a problem with vicious pit bulls - who not only are used in illegal dog-fighting but have found favor with some involved in drug and gang activity. But even Lassie would turn nasty when maltreated, abused or otherwise encouraged to be aggressive

     

     

    State senator seeks muzzles for pit bulls
    By STEVEN LEMONGELLO Staff Writer, (609) 272-7275
    Published: Friday, September 7, 2007
    When Rossana Belfiore was dragged down a Pleasantville street last month while trying to stop three pit bulls from killing her fiance's dog, it was the last straw for Linwood lawyer Joseph Jacobs.

    "It's gotten to the point where every other day you pick up the paper and and there's another problem with pit bulls somewhere in the country," said Jacobs, whose activism spurred state Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough, R-Atlantic, to prepare new legislation to force pit bull owners to muzzle their animals while in public.

    A muzzle, McCullough said in a statement, "is a minor inconvenience for the animal's owner compared to the increased level of safety it provides for others. The incidence of savage and unprovoked attacks by pit bulls, often resulting in fatal wounds, is simply too great to overlook."

    Before a Thursday news conference, held outside the Atlantic County Animal Shelter in Pleasantville, McCullough said that his bill, which has yet to be introduced in the Legislature, wouldn't mandate muzzles statewide but would give municipalities the option to pass an ordinance. Still, said Jacobs, it is a step in the right direction.

    "This little thing could save people's lives and put an end to pain, suffering and misery," said Jacobs, who also pointed to recent attacks in Bridgeton and Somers Point. "It's a safety measure that really needs to happen." Just last week, he added, he was talking with the Linwood city clerk when he looked up and saw a pit bull, "running around the playing fields without a leash, its owner 75 yards away and a little kid playing baseball nearby."

    Nancy Beall, president of the Atlantic County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she supports McCullough's proposal, but added that it doesn't go far enough. She wants all pit bulls to be tracked with microchips, so law enforcement officials would know if they'll have to face one when entering a property.

    Although McCullough countered that it was more important right now that the muzzle proposal gain enough support to pass both chambers before adding new language about microchips, the idea did get the support of Belfiore and her fiance, Pete Guenther.

    "It's a good way to keep track of them," said Belfiore, who said her leg still bleeds from the gashes the dogs made. Guenther's dog, Moose, needs additional surgery on top of the initial $1,500 veterinary bill.

    "If those dogs were muzzled," he said, "none of this would have ever happened."

    All involved did make a point to say that they weren't condemning all pit bulls as a breed, just the owners who make them aggressive.

    "People around here keep them as weapons or as guard dogs," Guenther said. "Any dog can be tame if you train them right."

    Beall agreed, referring to the reaction of the pit bulls' owner after Pleasantville police shot and killed one following the attack on Belfiore. "If my dog did that to somebody," she said, "I wouldn't stand there in the street and yell at (the police), I'd be thanking them."

    "I think this is a start," Beall concluded. "It's not as tough as it needs to be, but it's a start."

     

     

    Train your pitbull

     

    SAY PRAYERS


    How: The object is to have your dog put his head down between his paws on the command "say prayers" and to end the exercise on the command"amen". Start with handler seated on a chair, dog in sit/stay in front. Put a treat on chair between your legs. Tell dog to "say prayers" and encourage or lift both front paws on to the chair (NOTE: dog must remain seated). The action is similar to a beg with the paws resting on the chair. Tell dog to "leave it" so he doesn't eat treat and repeat "say prayers". Dog should stick nose down to the treat between paws. Then give release "amen" and reward with the treat. You may find this easier to do on a low table. While standing behind dog, guide paws on to table and encourage him to lower muzzle between paws towards the treat.





    SNEEZE



    How: The object is to make your dog sneeze on command. The signal will be the handler cupping her hands around her nose and mouth and saying "sneeze". With the handler seated in a chair, have your dog in a sit/stay in front of you. Cup your hands around her muzzle, say sneeze and blow gently into her nostrils. Continue until she either snuffles, sneezes or makes any such motion. Reward "good sneeze" and treat. Repeat. This may take a long time depending on the dog. Some will sneeze immediately, and others will take a lot of work to respond.





    FIND IT



    How: The idea is to have the dog use her nose to find a hidden object. This is good practice for tracking or utility work. First start with simple exercises. Show the dog a treat (strong smelling ones work best). Then let the dog see you place it under the edge of a towel about 6 feet away. Let the dog smell the scent of the treat on your hand. Send dog and say "find it". Reward with praise when she finds the treat. The reward is the treat. Start to move farther back from the hiding place and move the location of the treat - put it further under the towel so it is harder to get out. Then leaving towel in same place, put the treat a few feet away from the towel and send the dog. The dog will have to sniff out the location. Eventually, you will place the dog with her back to the location and have someone make sure she cant see where you put the treat. Then when that level has been achieved, move the dog to another room, hide the treat, let dog sniff your hand and send to "find it". Give lots of praise. You can eventually move from food to solid obstacles such as keys, toys, etc. This makes the exercise into a retrieval.





    COOKIE ON NOSE



    How: Hold dogs muzzle and give "stay" or "leave it" command. Place a cookie on top of nose and continue to say "stay" or "eave it". Let go of muzzle. Dog must hold the cookie until you give a release command - "take it". Then she must catch the cookie in her mouth. This is a fun way to give treats and looks cute.





    HIDE YOUR EYES



    How: The dog can be in a sit or down for this one. The idea is to get her to cover her eyes with one paw on command. It will take some practice to find out the best method for your dog as we find they all respond to different signals. You may prefer to do it in a down. Then with treat in hand, tell the dog to "cover your eyes". Physically lift her paw over her muzzle and reward. If you blow gently on her nose, she may be inclined to swipe at her face. When she does this, reward. You have to just repeat the command and movement until the dog realizes what is needed to get the treat.





    WAVE



    How: Place dog in sit stay. Decide on a hand signal. It can be a circular movement of your hand like a wave or hold hand palm up and wave fingers in and out (as in making a fist). It is not recommended doing a real wave with palm facing down. It looks too much like the speak command and can confuse the dog. Sitting close to your dog give the command and hand signal. If dog doesn't do anything nudge her paw until she lifts it up. Reward. Eventually require her to lift paw higher. Always reward every time she does it. Eventually start to give command from farther back.





    SPEAK



    How: This is usually a simple one to teach if your dog likes to bark at you. Trick is to get her to do it on command and from distances. First decide on a hand signal that is not similar to any other. You can use a motion of opening and closing thumb and fingers (facing the dog). Some handlers think this looks more like a mouth opening and closing. Other handlers use a closed fist, twisting motion. Tell your dog to "speak" at the same time. When she does, reward with treat immediately and say "good speak". If your dog doesn't bark readily, continue to give command until she gets really fed up with you and barks. Then quickly reward. She wont know why but if done enough, she'll get the message. Gradually give the command verbally only and then hand signal only. Increase distance to the maximum comfort zone.