Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dog fighting: help shut them down

While it is sickening to read how Michael Vick and his cohorts tortured and killed dogs trained to fight to the death, as well as put smaller breeds with the fighters for "bait" dogs, used to teach the dogs to fight and kill, it's important that the general public understand this illegal and horrific treatment of dogs has been going on for many years in the US.

Dog fighting, called a blood sport for good reason, is illegal for obvious reasons in most nations, but it still exists in many US cities because it's closely related to gang activity.

The tip offs to find dogfighting in your area: dogs heard barking all hours of the day and night (when they're chained up) without actually seeing them, lots of people trafficking in and out of a place, and any yelps of dogs sounding like they're hurt heard more than once from the same area.

Some people are afraid to report dogs barking, etc., for fear the dogs will be put down if they are taken in. This almost *never* happens. Even higher kill shelters give owners two or three chances before they actually take the dog away from its owner and put the dog in a shelter for adoption.

Meanwhile, if it is a dog fighting operation, the authorities will rescue the dogs and put the dog fighting criminals out of business.

People who treat dogs like this have zero empathy; they tend not to feel or understand the pain they are inflicting on helpless animals. People who abuse animals have been found in too many cases to parlay that behavior to abusing human beings as well.

When I worked as a volunteer for two years at the Seattle Animal Shelter, helping to care for the animals, calm them and match them with new owners, we were instructed how to identify the behavior of people seeking either fighting or bait dogs.

There are specific behaviors and questions they ask that tip anyone off that they're looking for either fighting or bait dogs. Because they didn't want to pay adoption fees, they would come in looking for their "lost" dog. It would always be a certain type or breed, pit bulls were at the top of their list, but they could never specifically identify a particular dog.

We knew the dogs' personalities and idiosyncrasies well enough to know that these folks were just fishing, that they had not actually lost their pet, and when we asked what sorts of activities they did with their dog or about specific personality or physical traits, they wouldn't have the foggiest notion what we were talking about.

They would become excited when they saw one of the larger breeds or pit bulls respond in a menacing or rambunctious way and try to claim it was their dog.

You know your pet at first sight, you don't "test" or check them out to decide it's your dog. To adopt a pet, you need to jump through hoops the fighting/bait dog seeker don't want leap into because personal information forms need to be filled and checked out, identifying where they live, etc., before the adoption would be permitted.

We would not let them know we were on to them, and we didn't have enough specific information, of course, to report them to authorities. I'm sure they come in hoping to be helped by someone less aware than I am, and who knows if they ever got "lucky" with a newbie.

When fighting and bait dogs would be brought to us by police who shut down a dog fight operation, what we saw was heartbreaking. The injuries, the scars, the fear, the rage. Those who may have been against the death penalty changed their minds at that moment - at least for that moment - when they saw the ravages beset on victims of dog fighting.

People associated with dog fighting are not the only people who come in claiming to "find" their lost pet - dog or cat - when of course it's not their pet at all. Some would come in high or drunk, I think looking for a companion they couldn't afford to adopt; others for who knows what reason, but it certainly wasn't for the welfare of the animal.

The only thing we could do in every case, equally, was adhere to our policy: the right pet for the right person. A Great Dane won't work if you live in a small apartment, for instance, no matter how much you love Great Danes.

Shelter pets are all "personality" tested - some animals should not live with other animals or children, for example. Others are just love bugs and would be perfect for kids.

Some have been abused and react strongly to certain elements that remind them of those nightmares, so they need someone who understands how to work with problematic pets.

Letting people know the truth about caring for a new pet is important. The average age of a cat born today and raised indoors, for example, is 20. It's a many years-long commitment.

I'll never forget the day a very tired and very pregnant woman came in with her three children - one of whom was small enough that she had to hold her, another was in a stroller, and the the third was a very active little boy.

I asked if I could help her, and the little boy squealed, "We want a puppy!"

I looked the woman in the eye and said, "You realize a puppy is just as much work as another kid .."

Without taking a breath, she turned and left, the little boy screaming, "I want a puppy! I want a puppy!" behind her.

Something that helped keep shelter dogs out of the hands of people who potentially might use or abuse them was not just our training.

Seattle has a very low kill policy - they keep the animals alive, which means that only in dire cases of disease or terminal injury would the animal be put down.

So we worked hard to take care of them and find new owners; many volunteers take the displaced animals in as "foster parents" to help the pet (dog, cat, or other animal) recover from illness or injury, adjust to normal living or even socialized and trained.

There is a separate fund for helping sick and injured pets that does not tap into any city money, for which an annual fundraiser is held.

So while we were very eager to get the animals adopted, we could be careful to match the animal with the right home because we weren't desperate to get the animals out of the shelter. Since the animals weren't facing a ticking clock death sentence, we could take our time to assist people find the proper pet as well as show them how to care for them. It's astonishing how many people know nothing about the proper care, socializing and training of a pet - particularly dogs.

I suggested that we make a 15-minute video on the proper care, socializing and training of a dog that everyone coming through the door looking for a dog should watch so they could make their decision knowledgeably and be confident that when they got home, they were in for a great experience with their new pet.

I believe that since we have taken animals out of their natural habitat, living in the wild, that we have a responsibility to care for them since in so many ways, they can no longer fend for themselves as they could when they were not domesticated.

At any rate, the adoption rate was very high because most people come to the shelter ready and willing to learn how to take care of their new family members if they don't already know how, and we took time to be sure they got the right companion for their lifestyle, companion needs or family.

My Allie Cat is adopted from the shelter. What a terrific experience I've had with her.

But it's because I knew how to socialize and train her little crazy wild heart.

All that peripatetic energy and desire to desecrate was redirected into the most affectionate, sweet, fun kitty ever! 20 years? I hope she has 30!

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