Bait dogs: The unseen victims of an illegal blood sport

Rocky, a bait dog, was rescued but suffers from serious scars.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 4:27pm

The gruesome world of illegal dogfighting rarely makes its way to the general public. That’s why a video posted to Facebook showing the horrific crime managed to circulate around the state in less than a day’s time.

“For him to put the video on Facebook was a big mistake,” Trevor Reeves, a local expert on illegal dogfighting, said. “For the most part, dogfighting has become pretty clandestine in recent years. It’s rare to catch these guys slipping up like this. Unfortunately, now that he’s been found out, he’s probably going to kill those dogs.”

The less than two minute video was only a small portion of the horror that goes along with dogfighting. Truly, the ways in which these dogs are trained to attack is possibly the most disturbing.

“They select particular dogs based on its gameness,” Reeves, who operates America’s Dog Pit Bull Rescue, explained. “They will breed the dog and once the puppies are old enough, they will select the ones out of the group that are the most aggressive. Once they select the alphas, they will begin training them like prize fighters.”

Pit bulls are the most commonly used breed for dogfighting due to its mass, strength, and ability to be trained.

“Before the turn of the century, pit bulls were known as ‘America’s Dog,’ which is why I chose the name for my rescue group,” Reeves explained. “They were seen as a symbol of strength and trustworthiness. There are hundreds of photos of children with pit bulls.

“The turn in perception came during the 1980’s,” he continued. “Sports Illustrated released a famous article with a vicious looking pit bull on the cover. The headline said something like ‘can you trust this dog?’ The image became the pop icon for being bad, so all of the bad guys had to have one. Ironically, the same trait that made pit bulls ‘America’s Dog’ is what made them attractive for fighting – they’re very human loyal. Because they are so loyal, they will do anything you want.”

Trainers will often go to extreme measures to teach these dogs to fight.

“Depending on the sophistication of the operation, some will exercise them and feed them strict diets, they will use weights to build their muscles, and sometimes they’ll shoot them up with steroids.”

Dogfighting can range from low-level backyard trainers, to high-dollar events that are extremely organized.

“There are a lot of areas in southern Louisiana that are home to dogfights. Lafayette is ground zero,” Reeves noted. “If you’re dealing with a professional operation, they will train the dogs like high-dollar athletes. If you’re talking about local drug dealers who participate in it for the blood sport, they’ll basically just find the meanest dog they can. They will tie 10 pound weights around its neck and force it to walk around to build its neck and arm muscles.”

No matter the level of the operation, however, all utilize what is known as “bait dogs” as part of the training.

“From the litter of puppies, the ones that are not considered aggressive will be used for bait dogs,” Reeves said. “They will do anything from pulling their teeth out to filing their teeth down so that they will not hurt their prize dog during a training fight. Some will just tape their muzzles shut.”

Bait dogs suffer the cruelest fait.

“Many will not let their dog kill the bait dog. They’ll just keep using the same dog over and over,” Reeves said. “If these dogs make it into a shelter, they look like they’ve been through a meat grinder. These guys are using these dogs as a living chew toy.”

Bait dogs that live through the trauma will suffer from injuries such a multiple puncture holes or deformities around the face, muzzle and neck area. Emotionally, they will have symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder.

“They’re super shy and it’s often difficult to get them to trust,” Reeves said. “Every dog is different, but bait dogs can be rehabilitated. They were chosen because they were not aggressive, so if they did not have the fighting spirit in them after being attacked, they’re not going to become aggressive.”

Bait dogs are not just obtained from the less aggressive dogs in a litter, however.

“It’s important for animal owners to know that these people will steal dogs,” Reeves said. “There are a huge amount of dogs in Louisiana that are stolen every year. They will take any kind they can get.”

Stolen family pets are often utilized during the fights, not just in training.

“They will specifically target people’s family dog to use as bait dogs for big fights,” Reeves said. “In between the rounds they will have what’s almost like a half time show. As part of the entertainment they’ll take these beautiful family dogs and just one after another they will put them in the ring specifically to be torn apart and killed. It’s a vicious and sickening form of entertainment to these people.”

Reeves explained that the type of individual typically participating in such dogfighting events is typically involved in other forms of criminal activity.

“Even if you’re not an animal lover, you should have a vested interest in seeing these people stopped from the criminal perspective,” he said. “Dogfighting goes along with other violent crimes and criminal activity. That’s why it’s an important issue for our society as a whole.”

Dogfighting is a felony offense and is illegal in every state. If you suspect someone to be involved in dogfight activity, report it to your local law enforcement.
 

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