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Dogfight on the Western front

Discussion in 'Pit Bull News' started by F.W.K., Aug 11, 2017.

  1. F.W.K.

    F.W.K. Pup

    Dogfight On The Western Front
    ''Although old news I guess some maybe like to read it''.
    BRUSSELS--Germany, France, Italy, and Britain are battling again in Belgium, and invading bloody Americans are again ensnarled in the thick of it. That’s American pit bull terriers this time. Like the doughboys of World War I and the G.I.s of World War II, they are said to be over-large, overdosed on testosterone, and over here, looking for a fight.
    This time they are seen as allies of neo-Nazis and Huns--Attila’s Huns, who ravaged Europe from 434 to 453, when the notoriously reactive Attila’s brain burst as he celebrated his honeymoon. The Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union on September 29 heard a German proposal to ban throughout Europe the breeding or import of any kind of “fighting dog,” defined as any member of 14 breeds with American pit bull traits. As well as the American pit bull and Japanese tosa, who have been banned in Britain and The Netherlands since 1991, the German proposal would ban Rhodesian ridgebacks, Neopolitan bulldogs, Staffordshire terriers, English bull terriers, and bullmastiffs.

    The latter three breeds are longtime British favorites, popular throughout much of the former British empire. In theory they are easily distinguished from American pit bulls and other authentic fighting breeds but dogfighters long since learned to evade breed-specific pit bull bans by breeding pit bulls with the Staffordshire black-and-white coloration, instead of the traditional pit bull brindle.

    Bull mastiffs, meanwhile, are also turning up with greater than historical frequency in reports of life-threatening dog attacks. But English bull terriers seem to be caught in the crossfire mainly due to their name. Legislation was rushed into effect in most of the 16 German states during July and August 2000, soon after an American pit bull terrier named Zeus and a black Staffordshire terrier named Gypsy leaped a fence to attack 10 children who were waiting in a Hamburg school yard to be taken swimming. A six-year-old boy of Turkish immigrant parentage tried to run. Zeus tore his throat out. Gypsy severely mauled another child. Police shot both dogs on the spot.

    The tragedy had racial overtones, not just because the dead boy came from Germany’s darkest and most often abused ethnic minority, but also because barely two months earlier an assembly of pit bull fanciers planned to pin yellow stars on their dogs, like those the Nazis compelled Jews to wear during the Holocaust, and parade the pit bulls through Berlin to protest a proposed breed restrictive city ordinance.

    Only after Central Council of Jews president Paul Spiegel threatened to take legal action against the fanciers for alleged defamation did they back off slightly, apologizing for offending Holocaust survivors. The Berlin ordinance, now in effect, became the model for the ensuing German state legislation and the proposed EU legislation. Owners of the 14 designated “fighting dog” breeds are not required to get rid of them, but must keep them leashed and muzzled at all times when they are in a public place; must take an examination of their knowledge of dog-rearing and dog -training; and may not have any criminal history.

    A rash of “fighting dog” abandonments followed, as owners rushed to avoid liability. A flurry of Internet postings and some media accounts also blamed public panic for instances of pit bulls and similar dogs being burned alive, shot, hanged, and so forth. Not clear from the evidence, however, was that many of these cases actually involved anything more than dogfighters’ routine vicious dispatch of dogs who won’t fight, or lose--as in the U.S., where Boston-area investigators learned in 1999 that some dogfighters skin losing dogs right in the ring, possibly still alive, and keep the pelts as trophies.

    France since January 2000 has required that all pit bulls and dogs of several other high-risk breed be neutered, with the intention of eliminating them entirely by 2010. But demands for stronger and faster action rose in June after five pit bulls escaped from a yard and bodily dismembered Maria Berthelot, 86, during an evening walk. The hue-and-cry continued when panhandler Jeremie Acquemin, 20,of Rouen, was convicted in August of setting his pit bull on three people who refused to give him spare change, plus a police officer who intervened. All four victims were hospitalized.Similar incidents occur in the U.S. almost every day, but are so common that they rarely attract more than local notice. Police officer Didier Lecourbe, in the depressed Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, warned

    Manchester Guardian correspondent Jon Henley in September that just banning some dog breeds wouldn’t solve the problem. “Now that the authorities have cracked down on pit bulls and the rest, apes look like the new weapon of choice,” Lecourbe explained, estimating that as many as 500 Barbary apes--actually a subspecies of baboon--have been smuggled into France within the past two years. Native to Gibraltar, Morocco, and Algeria, they are brought back by ethnic North Africans now living in France, after visits to relatives still in North Africa. “There are dozens of them,” Lecourbe continued. “Kids take them out on leads, and even carry baby monkeys around in nappies. But they can be very dangerous indeed,” tending to make leaping facial bites. “We’ve heard of monkey-fights being run in housing project basements,” Lecourbe added. Whether or not baboon-fighting catches on, dogfights have gone global, and seem to be far bigger business now than at any time since 1905, when Jack London used the success of his novel White Fang, about a wolf hybrid who is stolen and forced to fight, to lead a successful drive to expell dog fighting from respectable sports pages.

    Dogfighting had been a staple of early sporting sheets since advent of mass literacy and high-speed web printing coincided with the heyday of Kit Burns’ Tavern at 273 Water Street, Manhattan. Burns’ Tavern was the Madison Square Garden of dogfighting, but was also recently recalled by New York Times historian David W. Dunlap as “one of the foulest grog shops within staggering distance of the East River wharves.”

    According to Edward Winslow Martin in his 1868 illustrated tract Secrets of the Great City, Burns’ Tavern nightly attracted “a crowd of brutal wretches whose conduct stamps them as beneath the struggling beasts.” But despite Martin’s outrage, even the American SPCA, founded nearby in 1869, couldn’t close Burns’ Tavern or accomplish much else to stop dogfighting until Jack London loaned his two-fisted influence to the Band of Mercy children’s crusade against animal fighting of all kinds begun by Massachusetts SPCA founder George Angell.

    At that, dogfighting before rowdy crowds of gamblers remained legal in much of the U.S. beyond London’s death. As late as 1921, along the route that the fictional White Fang was dragged from Santa Clara, California, to the dog fighting pits of Alaska and the Yukon, touts built The Doghouse, a dogfighting stadium on the waterfront at Langley, Washington. The dogfights reputedly ended at that location within just a few years, as they drew too much attention to the building’s parallel role as a speakeasy. The Doghouse saloon is still in business, many ownership changes later.

    Organized crime

    The modern history of organized crime in the U.S. began with Prohibition-era rum running. The major criminal syndicates diversified from the liquor traffic into gambling, loan-sharking, prostitution, and drugs, and became seriously involved in dogfighting only recently, as an apparent outgrowth of acquiring pit bulls for guard dogs. The Old Country mafia historically focused on extortion--but mobsters in Naples and Sicily have readily copied each U.S. underworld success. “In recent years, the [Italian] mafia has organized illegal horse races, trafficked in exotic species, and even rustled cattle,” San Francisco Chronicle foreign service correspondent Adolfo Sansolini reported from Rome on September 15. “But the most lucrative mafia activity is dogfighting, which law enforcement authorities say is now an estimated $500 million-a-year business.”

    As many as 5,000 dogs per year are reportedly killed in Italian fighting rings. Countless more dogs--and other animals are torn apart by fighting dogs in training.Gangsters heading south for the winter have also brought increasing levels of organization and sophistication to dogfighting in South Africa, where it has long been practiced by the underclasses, of both African and Afrikans descent, and Honduras, where it is legal and occurs at public stadiums.

    Organized dogfighting has spread as well from the U.S. into Canada, as an adjunct to drug trafficking. The Ontario Provincial Police found perhaps the biggest Canadian dogfighting training center to date during a mid-July 2000 search for narcotics at a seemingly abandoned farm in Percy Township, north of Cobourg. The Ontario SPCA took 29 pit bull terriers into custody, who had not been given food or water in at least two days, along with rabbits who were evidently raised to be live bait, while the OPP seized exercise equipment and a stash of steroids.

    Dope growers

    Veteran U.S. dogfighting investigators, like chief dog warden Tom Skeldon of Lucas County, Ohio, learned long ago that related drug charges bring offenders the most prison time--so Skeldon wasn’t disappointed in August 1999 when Lucas Country sheriff’s deputies ended his multi-year surveillance of suspected dogfighter Otha Jones Jr., 30, by busting Jones for cultivating marijuana that they spotted from a helicopter.

    Already serving a four-year sentence for felonious assault, Jones on July 21 drew another four years and six months on the marijuana charges plus illegally possessing a firearm and dogfighting. The dogfighting conviction was made possible by discoveries made during the drug raid. An air search for marijuana plantations in early September nabbed previously convicted marijuana dealer Benjamin Donald Butts, 39, of Surry, Virginia--along with 29 allegedly mangy, malnourished adult pitbulls and four puppies.

    Hit with 33 counts of dogfighting, 33 cruelty counts, drug charges and a charge of carrying a gun as a convicted felon, Butts on September 6 confessed that he had organized dogfights and trained fighting dogs. The number of dogs seized from Butts was not unusually high.

    On August 13, for example, in Booneville, Mississippi, Prentiss County sheriff’s deputies seized 30 pit bulls while arresting alleged dogfighting trainers Wilson D. Watkins, 38, and Edward Haddox, 41. On August 30, a multi-agency law enforcement task force nabbed 36 pit bulls while busting Darell Hunter, 27, on 41 counts of dogfighting and one count of cruelty to his allegedly neglected 18-month old son.

    Suspects keep dogs

    What happened next in the Butts case, however, was unusual: Surry County District Court Judge Larry Palmer, at request of prosecutor Gerald G. Poindexter, released Butts’ 33 dogs back into his own custody, -- though Butts may be facing life in prison.

    There was, however, one recent Virginia precedent. An April 12 raid by the Roanoke County Sheriff’s office found 73 pit bulls chained to trees and old car axles on property owned by North Carolina “pet psychiatrist Tom Garner”--and another 19 pit bulls on neighboring land belonging to alleged dogfighting trainer Kyle Arthur Pearce.

    Evidence found during the Pearce bust led U.S. federal agents in late September to the home of his former housemate, Philip William Reynolds, publisher of the underground American Gamedog Times magazine plus an accompanying web site. Five pit bulls and alleged dogfighting paraphernalia were seized from Reynolds, against whom charges are reportedly pending. Back in April, however, during the initial raid, “Garner showed up at the site where the dogs were chained while police were investigating,” wrote Matt Chittum of the Roanoke Times. “Garner claimed ownership of most of the dogs,” Chittum continued, “and said he raised them to be sold as pets. An affidavit filed with the search warrant that authorized the raid, however, said Garner is known to the USDA as ‘a breeder of pit bull dogs sold to dogfighters.’

    Veterinary records found during the investigation indicate Pearce had several dogs treated for ‘injuries consistent with those inflicted in organized dogfighting,’ the search warrant says. Garner paid those bills, according to the warrant.’” Yet Garner was only charged with not licensing the dogs on his property. Two dogs were held as evidence. The rest remained on chains. Garner kept 71 of them, after paying $2,026 in fines.

    The cost of care

    Accused Humane Society of the U.S. program specialist Pat Wagner in a September 14 alert on the Butts case, “The city doesn’t want to take financial responsibility for caring for these dogs while awaiting the trial.” It was a plausible claim. On May 6, the Humane Society of the Huron Valley in Superior Township, Michigan, received 12 pit bulls seized from dogfighting suspects Ronald J. Wroble, 33, of Canton, and Jeffrey D. Pepper, 36, of Belleville. The pit bulls were held for six weeks as evidence. A dozen animals were killed to clear cage space for them, cutting into anticipated adoption revenue, and the pit bulls’ upkeep cost $500 a week, HSHV cruelty investigator Stacie Dugas told Ann Arbor News staff reporter Susan L. Oppat. That was cheap, as pit bull holding goes.

    In Pueblo, Colorado, Pueblo Animal League director Shelley Tipple told Denver Post staff writer Jim Hughes, the kenneling bill for 41 pit bulls seized in June from alleged dogfighter Brian Speer was expected to reach $14,000 within six weeks, and $90,000 if the case remained ed in court for a year. “They’ve chewed up about 20 hoses. They’re bored,” Tipple explained. “They’re also tearing holes in the sides of their cages to get to the other dogs. Soon they’ll figure out how to dismantle the cages and it will be a free-for-all.”

    The Speer case pit bulls were initially housed in rented space at a greyhound track, but security concerns eventually forced the Pueblo Animal League to bring them into the PAL shelter. A hidden cost of keeping fighting dogs as evidence is physical risk. In Asheville, North Carolina, for example, 12 pit bulls seized last spring from alleged dogfighter Darrell Durham, 27, bit animal services director Jim Medford and four of his staff. Durham drew 120 days in jail. The dogs got death.

    HSUS and PETA drummed up a storm of mail to Judge Palmer about the Butts case. Someone in Florida reportedly offered $500 to underwrite care of the dogs by anyone except Butts. The letters swayed Palmer several days later to vacated his own previous release order, and to take the care of the dogs under advisement until October 3. PETA senior caseworker Daphna Nachminovitch recommended killing all the dogs immediately. Prosecutor Poindexter, however, called the pups “people friendly and hoped they could eventually be adopted. The 33 pit bulls temporarily taken from Butts were held at three different shelters. Four were stolen almost immediately from the shelter at Isle of Wight, Virginia.

    That too is a familiar pattern. Several times per month ANIMAL PEOPLE hears of “fighting” breed dogs vanishing from shelters, sometimes with the collusion of corrupt shelter staff. In early September someone even took a pair of pit bulls from the Dog Adoption League shelter and the county animal control shelter in Santa Barbara, California; apparently fought them, possibly against each other; and brought the wounded dogs back after the weekend.

    Hot in Florida

    A July 14 raid on a dogfight in West Palm Palm Beach, Florida, encapsuled all the elements of dogfighting as it continues, 95 years after Jack London hoped to end it forever. The raid came three days after one Kendall Gadsen surrendered to sheriff’s deputies in East Fort Myers, Florida. An investigation of skeletal remains of dogs discovered along a road in East Fort Myers had led to the seizure of videotapes from an undisclosed location, which according to Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chuck Ellis, “showed at least four different fights at different parts of the day and different parts of different counties. We identified Mr. Gadsen as a participant, actually inside the ring, baiting and fighting the dogs.”

    Sixty-five people were apprehended in the West Palm Beach raid, of whom 53 were charged only with watching a dogfight, a misdemeanor. Among them were Palm Beach County corrections deputies Alton Harrell, 31, and Reginald Mickens, 32. Palm Beach County Judge Cory Ciklin on September 25 offered to allow any defendant without prior convictions to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of 12 months on probation, 200 hours of
    community service, a prohibition on keeping any pet or being around a pet except in the presence of another adult, and a donation of $1,000 to an approved animal rescue charity. Only one defendant immediately accepted. Six other defendants were charged with felony dogfighting. Two pit bulls seized as evidence against the six were stolen from the West Palm Beach Animal Care and Control shelter during the night of July 29- July 30. No charges have been announced against the remaining six attendees.

    --M.C.
     

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