A decade ago, the future for canines abused in dog fighting operations was bleak.
“They were almost always euthanized,” said Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president for the American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals’ forensic sciences and anti-cruelty projects.
Now, after several high-profile dog fighting cases, many of these animals are rehabilitated after they’re rescued.
The survival rate these days is as high as 60 percent, said Lockwood, a member of Baltimore’s Anti-Animal Abuse Commission.
“Animal shelters have a lot more experience dealing with pit bulls and their various temperaments,” Lockwood said.
For those who don’t survive, at least they don’t have to spend their lives chained up and abused, he said.
“I think the major motivation is greed,” Lockwood said of the people who force dogs to fight, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars is often tied up in these rings. “A lot of it is also the ego and the bragging rights.”
In Focus | Dog fighting rings can be hard to spot. So, the ASPCA is offering the Baltimore Police Department Training to help break them up. Thursday at 6 p.m.
The issue of dog fighting was thrust into the national spotlight in 2007, when NFL quarterback Michael Vick was charged in connection with a multistate dog fighting ring. He later served nearly two years in prison.
Kate Callahan, the co-founder and director of Jasmine’s House, a Baltimore-based pit bull rescue group, said dog fighting isn’t necessarily growing more prevalent.
But people are becoming more aware of the problem.
“And not just in Baltimore,” Callahan said.
Jasmine’s House—named for Sweet Jasmine, one of the dogs seized from Vick’s dog fighting ring-- specializes in dogs that have medical and behavioral issues.
Callahan said it’s no surprised that dogs rescued from fighting are terrified. Imagine living your life chained up, with little to no human contact, and then being released out into the world, Callahan said.
“Everything is new. Everything is scary,” said Callahan, who currently has 10 dogs in the rescue program. “That’s the kind of thing we deal with.”
But adoption guidelines for rescue dogs are much the same as guidelines for adopting a non-rescue dog—consider the needs of your family and how much time you have to care for a pet, Callahan said.
Lockwood said dogs seized from fighting rings run the gamut from puppies as young as three months to older dogs that have been in quite a few fights.
Many, though, are not aggressive toward people. Like Callahan, he said they need help adjusting to the world beyond a dog fighting ring.
“They’ve never been on grass, let alone up steps,” Lockwood said.
Daisy Balawejder, coordinator of the Humane Society of the United States’ Dog fighting Rescue Coalition, manages a network of shelters that take rescue dogs.
“The dogs are individuals,” Balawejder said. “You have some dogs that are very resilient.”
Others are not. But those who work with the dogs start slowly with all of them, Balawejder said.
“We’ve had dogs that have been placeable in 30 days,” she said.
One of the first things they do is get them on a routine, with regular feedings and walks.
“Before, they never knew when food was going to come, so we try to give them structure,” Balawejder said.
After that, the dogs are trained to sit, stand and how to behave appropriately around other canines as well as people.
She urges people who are looking to adopt a dog to give a dog fighting survivor a chance.
“Every person I know who has rescued a dog like this—they are just in love with these dogs,” Balawejder said.