As ill-used pit bull fights for life, SPCA fights stereotype

Pennsylvania SPCA humane law enforcement officers have shut down a significant dog fighting ring, rescuing 26 dogs from four properties.

Many of the dogs are being kept as evidence at PSPCA headquarters in Philadelphia, but some of the puppies are ready for new homes.

In a room with some barking dogs and meowing cats, Spartacus ambles out of his cage and waits.  The young dog keeps his eyes focused on Dr. Aime Berman, the medical director of the PSPCA. “All right Spartacus, baby.  Come on, sit down.  You know how to sit?  Are you a good boy?  Sit down baby doll,” Berman says gently, “So this is Spartacus.  He came in the other day and clearly was chewed up in the face.  You can see tons and tons of swelling and old and new wounds.” Berman is seated on the floor next to the 2-year-old pit bull.  He doesn’t bark, whine, or look distracted by the dozens of other cats and dogs in cages lining the walls.   The dog’s head with its big square jaw looks too big for his body–because he’s so skinny.  Berman pointed to a notch that’s cut out of the dog’s ear–a relic from an old fight, she says.  Spartacus is covered in tiny hairless scars and bloody cuts, including a big one on his nose. Berman lifted up the dog’s ear, “On the inside of the right ear there’s actually cartilage that’s evident.  It looks like a tooth dragged across the interior of the pina, which is the floppy part of the ear. There’s dried blood on the dog and there’s cartilage pushing out from the wound,” she said. Still, Spartacus sat quietly and patiently next to the doctor.  She said the dog was in the ring fighting when the PSPCA officers raided the house.  Berman said  Spartacus is too thin, and his scars won’t disappear, “Hopefully he’ll just get some behavior training while he’s here–which is something that we incorporate into their stay–and that will eliminate some of his anxieties.  Unfortunately, this is very, very mild…I think that the officers were in there so promptly that there wasn’t the time to cause a lot of the damage that otherwise could have been caused,” Berman added. “Some of these guys die in these fights.” Berman said she tries to be very cautious of how much they spend on each animal, to make sure the SPCA can help others.

Fighting stereotypes

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Patricia Lawrence was strolling through the rows of dogs up for adoption Tuesday with her 9-year-old daughter Veronica and 2-year-old son James in tow.  She said they’re looking for a nice new family dog, “No pit bull.  I don’t like their temper.  No matter how they’re trained, they still attack their family, their trainer,” said Lawrence. “I don’t want one around–especially him–I want another kind of dog that’s very well-tempered, very nice around kids.”

That type of stereotyping isn’t fair, said PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano. “You’ll see more and more now that pit bulls are actually very intelligent, they’re very trainable, they’re very loyal, they’re very social and they’re rambunctious dogs and they use that–people who fight–in a very negative way,” said Marano.

Down a hallway are some dogs from the raids that don’t need as much medical help.  Puppies!  That’s right, puppies! Marano pointed to a puppy in a cage in a small room full of other cages.   “There were seven that were from one location and we believe that they were actually being bred, brought up to be fighting dogs.  So they hadn’t been fighters yet,” Marano said.  “They’re about 5 months old.  These ones were actually signed over to us so we don’t have to hold them in protective custody and we can get them in a home right away.

“These dogs don’t show any sign of being fought so there’s not really a worry that they’re going to fight or be aggressive,” she said. “They’re probably rambunctious just like any new puppy.” People are already showing up to adopt the young dogs. Like Mia Bowie, who leaned down to get a good look at the energetic puppy, “She’s so cute and I kind of wanted a baby pit ever since my dad talked about getting a pit bull,” she said. “I kind of wanted one just because I don’t think that they’re all aggressive.  It’s just how you raise them.  If you raise them to fight, then they’re going to fight.” The dog-fighting raids resulted in more than a dozen arrests.  In addition to the dogs, officers found weapons, narcotics and large sums of cash.

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