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A TALE OF 400 PIT BULLS
By Thetis Reeves
Last July, an unprecedented animal rescue mission took place. In coordinated raids in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma, task forces of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies seized over 400 pit bull terriers and arrested 30 people involved in dog-fighting operations. Most of the dogs were placed by the Humane Society of Missouri in an undisclosed emergency shelter in St Louis, where vets and animal-behavior specialists took on the task of examining them. That some could not recover from severe injuries or illnesses and would have to be put down was expected. But each one of the others would have at least the chance for a better life pending thorough physical and behavioral evaluations.
When this story broke, reporters were asked not to disclose the location of the shelter nor name those arrested, because indictments were pending. Legal ownership of about 40 of the dogs was also in dispute.
I should have known when I first read about the rescue of so many pit bulls that the story would take on a personal aspect for me. My niece, Alexis, who loves all dogs, especially cares about pit bulls. (She is the treasurer of Pit Bull Rescue Central, a group dedicated to the care of and public education about the breed.) She was one of the hundreds of volunteers, whose travel expenses were covered, who took time out from their jobs and personal lives to come to the shelter to help feed, care for, clean up after and socialize the dogs during their evaluations.
If you imagine that several hundred abused and traumatized dogs gathered in one place would be a scene of utter misery that is far from how one reporter described his visit several months later. He wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Be prepared to face a cacophony of barks and growls, but also a warehouse full of wagging tails.” The dogs were desperate for attention, jumping high in the air and bouncing off chain link fences. They’d already grown used to the care and kindnesses they’d never before experienced. The puppies’ behavior was no surprise—unless trained for aggression, puppies are puppies. But even Bonnie, a battle-scarred survivor with a missing front leg, strained to be petted.
“Pit bulls have gotten this bad reputation because of some of the people who own them,” said Humane Society investigator Tim Rickey, who led the July raid. “Their love for humans is the reason why this breed is in trouble. They will take the abuse.”
The grim prediction that less than 10 per cent of the dogs were likely to be saved gave way to a much brighter reality. Months after the raid, 60 per cent of the hundreds of dogs and puppies rescued were expected to survive and be fit to be placed in sanctuaries, half-way houses for old fighters, humane shelters across the country and adoptions into private homes.
Guilty pleas were entered in federal courts in connection with the arrests made at the time of the raids. Since then, a number of the dog-fighting operators have been sentenced to prison time.
“This intervention is a momentous victory in our ongoing battle to end the cruel, criminal dog-fighting industry,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States at the time. “With each raid we get one step closer to ending this cruel blood sport.”
There is one dog whose good fortune since rescue I’m able to follow avidly and that is Fanny, the seven-year-old adopted by my niece. It isn’t clear that Fanny was ever a fighter, but she was found on the premises where fights took place. She now is the third pit bull in the house, along with Tonka and Gracie. Tonka and Gracie were both raised from puppies in loving homes before they came to live with Lexie. With great care—Lex is a super-responsible dog owner—Fanny was introduced to her new home. Besides Tonka and Gracie there are cats in residence. They have their private spaces, but all are on speaking terms and fraternization is not unheard of here.
All is well at my niece’s home. Another once-abused dog destined for hardship learns about life as a beloved pet. This remarkable rescue mission did the same for several hundred other cruelly treated dogs.
For further information on Pit Bull Rescue Central go to: www.PBRC.net