Clinton Portis can’t figure out why everybody’s up in arms over Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. The way Portis sees is the dogs belong to Vick, the house belongs to Vick so who cares? When advised that dog fighting is a felony Portis seemed surprised.
The big deal about dog fighting is that it is decidedly cruel. We’re not talking about a tussle between a couple of puppies in the front yard. Dog fighting is a brutal death sport where the losing dog is mortally wounded if not killed. Often the winning dog sustains severe injuries and it is not uncommon for both animals to be left for dead in some abandoned pole barn.
The dogs are bred to be killing machines. When they get loose they attack. A fighting dog running free will savage family pets, children and even full grown adults. These are dogs that have been mistreated to the point of murderous rage. They are raised and trained to be bigger, stronger and faster than normal members of the same breed.
Training methods include treadmills, heavy chains, tires, and regular beatings. Dogs are shocked, burned, and cut in order to deaden nerves and encourage growth of scar tissue. Perhaps the sickest training method is the practice of rendering a passive dog, often a stolen family pet, defenseless and allowing the killer in training to hone its skills. The hell holes where fighting dogs are trained often include the mauled bodies of mild mannered breeds such as retrievers, boxers, German shepherds and huskies, many with their mouths taped shut to ensure the valuable fighting dog wouldn’t fall victim to a lucky desperate chomp.
This is not some misunderstood vocation. These are not happy dogs. Certain breeds enjoy performing the tasks for which they were bred. Border collies love to herd. Anything. Sheep are great because sheep love to be herded but border collies can be seen at any dog park trying in vain to round up the other dogs. They don’t much like to play fetch but they will give chase to establish order. How dare that other dog leave the imaginary corral? It’s not cruel to put a border collie to work at a golf course to run geese off the greens. Border collies must be trained…not to herd but to stop herding on command.
Huskies like to pull. The Iditarod comes under fire from animal rights groups every year because of the risks posed to the dogs. Of the hundreds of dogs who race each year some will get hurt and on occasion one or two might die but great lengths are taken to ensure veterinary care is available along the way. The huskies, however, love every grueling mile. Huskies live to run and pulling a sled makes all of that running worthwhile. Anybody who has owned a husky or a husky mix will tell you that there isn’t much you can do to engage them…they don’t fetch or play catch…but once they have something to pull they don’t want to stop running. Huskies will run themselves to death and die happy. And on the rare occasion a husky doesn’t want to run, nobody will make him. Huskies are stubborn dogs.
Various breeds, including those used in fighting, make excellent guard dogs. These animals require more training because they aren’t inclined to play with strangers. Strangers are a threat to the pack and these dogs are committed to protecting their pack. Even though they can be trained to attack, the idea isn’t to kill but to subdue. Dogs will kill food but when they fight they fight to submission. Generally a guard dog will handle everything with a curled lip and a low growl. Often that’s enough to get the job done.
Retrievers come by their name honestly. They are working dogs too and they love to fetch things. A Retriever will work himself into a frenzied lather on a sweltering day chasing a Frisbee for hours. They’ll swim hundreds of yards to bring that stick back to the person who threw it and literally beg for it to be thrown right back in. Guide dogs, though not generally of a particular breed, enjoy their vocation and while it’s not nearly as fun as chasing a tennis a ball across a soccer field, the pack mindset makes the work enjoyable. They love feeling needed.
And that’s the problem. Dogs aren’t really made for fighting. Dogs are socially oriented. Since dogs are direct descendants from wolves they do indeed possess formidable killing skills and in certain instances they can fight quite well but fighting is reserved for protection. In the wild wolves fight with rival packs for territory and within the pack dynamic they challenge each other for dominance but it is rare for these skirmishes to be deadly. Moreover, domestic dogs have had that instinct suppressed in order to protect man from the politics of the pack. People who raise wolves have experienced the occasional challenge for dominance, an inconvenience traditional dog owners don’t endure thanks to thousands of years of breeding and training. .
Dogs aren’t murderers. It goes against their design. To instill that compulsion in a dog the trainer must utilize exceptionally cruel tactics. In many cases these tactics are counter productive. For every dog that becomes a worthy fighter, three become chronically timid. They’ll bite when approached but they won’t go on the offensive. These dogs are often sold to novice fight breeders and subsequently abandoned because they simply aren’t competitive. So most of the dogs entering this world fail to meet the standards of market value; they are expendable.
People who are drawn to the dog fighting culture are not good people. This is not a vice like high stakes poker or midnight lap dances. These are people who simply have no respect for life. People who can’t respect animals generally can’t respect other people either. Dog fighting is a sick criminal act and the people who promote it, watch it or even defend it are dangerous.