Dog Fighting Culture, Midwest Vet Med Conference
I’m between speaking at Midwest Vet Med Conference in Ohio and speaking at the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior in Tucson. I only had time to fly in and out at the Vet Conference, wish I would have had more time to go to some of the other behavior talks. Happily, in Tucson I get two full days of listening to others, with only an hour to speak on my own. I can’t wait… I’ll fill you as I can. There are talks scheduled on genetics and behavior, the use of aversives in training, operant treatment of aggression, predicting separation anxiety in shelter dogs, screaming in parrots and urine marking n the domestic dog. And that’s not the full list. I am more than ready to get a break from the cold, looking forward to the intellectual stimulation, not to mention some great southwestern Mexican food and a marghuerita or two.
In Ohio I did enjoy connecting with Dr. Randall Lockwood of ASPCA and speaking with him about dog fighting. Randy, along Dr. with Stephen Zawistowski, headed up the evaluations on the Michael Vick dogs (and recommended that 47 of them NOT be euthanized and helped place them in suitable homes). I give Randy and Steve a lot of credit–they are 100% committed in their opposition to dog fighting, but are able to stay objective enough to work within the culture to gather information. I’ve heard Randy talk before about how the culture and perception of dog fighting has changed. Earlier in this country it was not only legal, it was socially acceptable, at least in some circles. Dr. Lockwood has a presentation (see it if you can, he’s a class act all around) on “dangerous dogs” and dog fighting that includes a photograph of a group of policemen, in full uniform, posing proudly for the camera with their fighting pits. (If I remember correctly, the dogs are markedly smaller than the fighting dogs of today.)
In the early days of dog fighting in this country, most fighting dogs were considered investments. They were carefully bred (primarily for stamina and gameness… apparently fights were more like boxing matches , with stamina and strategy playing important roles) and if they weren’t talented, were summarily shot. Not a pretty picture I know… but a far cry from today, when most people who engage in dog fighting know little about breeding, favor dogs who attack fast and early with full force, and kill the less talented dogs in a variety of horrific and painful ways that I’d rather not describe.
Randy described two new groups of dog fighters–the first being the urban street fighters who became more and more popular over the last twenty years, mostly who had one or two dogs, who knew little about breeding or even the old-time culture of fighting. Then there’s the newest group that has showed up in the last five years or so: millionaire rap stars and athletes who can afford 50 or more dogs, who know absolutely nothing about breeding, training and have basically no boundaries on their behavior around the dogs. One of my favorite quotes from Randy’s work on the Vick case was from an associate involved in the breeding program: “Well, she was a lousy fighter, but she always had lots of puppies, so we bred her as much as we could.” Oh my.
Hey, the good news is that their ignorance about breeding resulted in a lot of dogs who ended up being saved, given that “being a lousy fighter” is a plus for most of us.
Meanwhile, here’s what you never want your oral surgeon to say after the procedure is over. “Well, that’s about as bad as it gets.” But it IS over and I’m healing and it’s 40 degrees and sunny outside and here’s a few photos of the flock, happy to hang out with me when Willie is in the house!