Animal abuse is a real problem right here in Savannah, GA, and it’s not just “high school kids looking for kicks.” It’s more than just abandoned animals wandering the streets. It’s organized. It’s dangerous. It’s dog fighting. And it is up to us, as a community, to put a stop to it by being vigilant and responsible.
Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen and commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, lived on Savannah’s east side for a year and a half until she could no longer bear to live next door to people who were fighting dogs: “The sound of the pit bull killing the puppy almost made me throw up. The crowd was thrilled. Kids, parents and old men pressed against the fence for a better view. A father hoisted his toddler in the air so that she could see, too. They were trying to get their pit bull hungry for the kill. The puppy staggered a few feet and crumpled” (Hannon).
“For over a year,” Hannon said, “the dog fighters had terrorized the neighborhood with their drug trade and violence. We knew they were fighting dogs, but this is the first time I’d actually seen it.” Despite the drastic change in her neighborhood, Hannon wanted to show her neighbors she couldn’t be scared away. She tried to find out more about what she had witnessed. Hannon did not reveal who had agreed to speak with her about “the exhilaration of watching it.” When she told him where she lived, he told her, “you better be careful around them. They’re very violent people” (Hannon).
Former star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick, pleaded out on charges of dog fighting in 2007, throwing the “sport” into the public spotlight. Vick admitted that he had killed at least six “poorly performing” dogs by hanging or drowning them (Conn). Police raided Vick’s property in Surry County, Virginia, after Vick’s cousin Davon Boddie, who lived on the property, was arrested on drug charges. While serving the search warrant, police found evidence of a dog fighting operation. Animal control officers removed 66 dogs, 55 of which were pit bulls (Adler).
Law officials often have a difficult time proving and prosecuting these crimes. Many people, like Vick, will claim that they “didn’t know what was going on” or that the dogs do not belong to them. Without hard evidence, police place dog fighting on a back burner.
“It’s so hard to prove unless you actually catch someone in the act,” Chatham County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tommy Tillman, the department’s spokesman, said. “There’s a lot of smoke, but no fire” (Conn). So how do we, as a community, help to stop dog fighting?
Quite simply with knowledge and action.
How to Identify Dog Fighters
Dog fighting happens year round regardless of season. Be watchful of abandoned houses, garages, and secluded areas. If you notice a lot of activity, especially people that come and go with dogs, keep an ear out. Fights can last as long as two hours, only ending when one of the dogs cannot or will not continue. Spectators generally cheer on their “chosen” dog, much like they would cheer on their favorite sports team.
Look for telltale signs that dogs are being trained to fight. Dog fighters tend to own multiple dogs and/or puppies, and confine them with thick chains. Sometimes these chains will also have weights attached to strengthen a dog’s neck muscles. Dog fighters provide tires and other items, hung from trees, to strengthen the dogs’ jaws.
Dog fighters want their fighting dogs in good shape with high endurance. They will train their dogs on treadmills or confine a small animal to a track and encourage the dog to chase it. As a reward for its hard work, the dog is permitted to capture and kill this confined animal, usually a cat or rabbit.
There is no specific age group when it comes to spectators at dog fights. As Lauretta Hannon said, people bring their young children to watch. Viewing this form of violence from a young age teaches children to believe that animal cruelty is acceptable and promotes an enthusiasm for violence.
Although pit bulls are the preferred breed, due to their strong jaws which are able to inflict deep puncture wounds and broken bones, other large breed dogs are used. Fighting dogs will have excessive scars, generally on their heads, throats, legs and ears. Many have short cropped ears, or are missing ears, like Malachi. Found by Christine Wroebel during her morning run in Bluffton, SC, near Highway 46, Malachi, pronounced mal-a-ky, had nearly 20 abrasions and a huge piece of his ear missing (Spanka).
Malachi was a bait dog: a dog used for training purposes to encourage fighting dogs to be aggressive. His captors removed many of his teeth with pliers. His remaining teeth were filed down so that he could not inflict any damage on the dogs being trained to fight (Szpanka).
Not Every Pit Bull Owner is a Dog Fighter
As an avid animal lover, I understand the stigma and misconceptions associated with the breed. Pit bulls, and their owners, have a bad reputation that stems from dog fighting. The truth is pit bulls have been popular family pets since the 1800s. Famous historical figures like Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck all owned them. Pit bulls have been successful in dog sports and even herding. They have also found work as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and drug-sniffing K9s (Pit Bull FAQ).
It isn’t enough to say, “My neighbors own a pit bull. They must be fighting dogs.” Because of my active involvement with animal rescue, I have several dogs, two of which are pit bull mixes. Both of my pit bulls are “rescues,” though not in the traditional sense. Tank (pictured above) was bred by a local drug dealer, known to me only by his alias “Black,” to be a fight dog. After Tank’s freedom was purchased, I received word of another pup meant to be bait. The picture I was shown was of a small brown pit bull, her tail longer than her body, ribs protruding from her sides, locked in a small cage.
Through the same third party, I purchased Anastasia’s freedom and began the long road to recovery with her. Tank was too young, only seven weeks, and had not yet been trained to fight. I had never thought I would own a pit bull, despite my love of dogs. Tank and Anastasia have changed my mind about the breed; they are examples of how much love and affection pit bulls have to give. Tank, even at ninety pounds, still believes he fits in my lap and wants nothing more than to lick my face. This is a far cry from the life he would have led, if left in the hands of Black.
Dog Fighters Don’t Limit Their Criminal Activity
Dog fighters are a threat to our quiet and peaceful neighborhoods. Dog fighting is a felony in Georgia, punishable by up to five years in jail and no less than a five thousand dollar fine (Massimi.) To many, this seems like just a slap on the wrist. Dog fighters are also often involved in illegal gambling, the sale and possession of drugs, as well as illegal weapons. These charges carry heftier sentences.
Dog fighters, as well as the spectators, often have a history of violent and criminal behavior towards people. They use dog fighting as a form of entertainment and as a way to settle debts and arguments. Dogs trained to fight have been known to attack people without provocation, a result of years of torture. These people pose a serious threat to our community, and while their violent natures may be a deterrent for many to call the police, all reports are kept confidential.
Taking Back Our Neighborhoods
We need to watch out for each other and for our pets. Many dog fighters will steal dogs, especially small dogs, to use as bait. Animal Control will have an easier time returning your lost pet to you if you have microchipped the animal. Also, if a dog fighting ring is busted, police officials will be able to identify your pet.
The Animal Hospital at Rice Hope, overseen by Brandy Bragg, DVM, encourages everyone to have their pets microchipped. Melanie Watley, a technician at Rice Hope, said that, “Microchipping provides us with a great source of information. It gives us the original owners and from there police can find out if the dog was given to an animal shelter, which will have adoption records. It also gives them an idea of how long the dog has been missing if it was lost or stolen. Unfortunately, a lot of people give their pets away on Craigslist, and they don’t really know the type of home their pet is actually getting.”
Microchips are sub-dermal implants roughly the size of a grain of rice. While microchipping does not guarantee your pet’s return, it may help provide police with a way of prosecuting these criminals.
Melanie believes that if Ducky, named for the duct tape she was bound in when she was found by Effingham County Animal Control, had been microchipped, she may have been reunited with her family. As it is, the staff at Rice Hope is giving Ducky the love that she has missed out on. Suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, Ducky’s swollen stomach is painfully obvious against her protruding rib cage. When she was first brought to Rice Hope Melanie said she was covered in bite wounds in various stages of healing. The majority of these wounds were on her legs, neck, and ears: the telltale signs of a dog used as bait. Despite the abuse she has suffered, Ducky wants a second chance at love, a chance that will be cut short by an untreatable infection of heartworms.
Like Officer Seckinger of Effiningham County, who found Ducky and brought her to Rice Hope, local law enforcement is aware of dog fighting. They understand that violence, weapons and illegal activities go hand in hand with it. They take all reports of dog fighting seriously, and encourage everyone to report suspected dog fighting activities. Remember, it is up to you and your neighbors to spread the word that dog fighting is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Please call any of the following numbers if you suspect dog fighting in your neighborhood.
Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department
201 Habersham St. (912) 652-6500
Animal Control (912) 652·6575
Crime Stoppers (912) 234·2020
or call 911
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Conn , Lesley. “Rewards offered for dogfighting tips.” Savannah Morning News. N.p., 10 Sept. 2007. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <m.savannahnow.com/local/2007-09-10/rewards-offered dogfighting-tips>.
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“Savannah Chatham Animal Control: Dog Fighting.” Savannah Chatham Animal Control: Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://animalcontrol.chathamcounty.org/PetResources/DogFighting.aspx>.
Szpanka , Debbie. “Saving Malachi.” Savannah Morning News. N.p., 4 Sept. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. < http://savannahnow.com/bluffton-news/2011-09-04/saving- malachi#.Tqg1Z3KBV8E>.