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The next step for pit bulls rescued in massive dogfighting raid: behavior evaluation, with an eye toward rehabilitation

Pit bull The roughly 400 dogs seized this month in the largest coordinated raid on dogfighting rings in U.S. history are about to take their next steps on the path to, hopefully, rehabilitation and life outside the fighting ring.

Most of the seized dogs, primarily pit bulls, were taken to an emergency shelter in St. Louis operated by the Humane Society of Missouri, which played a primary role in the raid.  And, beginning tomorrow, they'll begin the process of being evaluated by animal behaviorists who will make recommendations to federal court on their chances for rehabilitation. 

Since the raids -- in which arrests were made and dogs from Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Mississippi were taken from owners who authorities say forced them to fight -- rescuers have been focused on the animals' physical well-being, tending to injuries and insuring they're free from parasites and other ailments.  (Some of the seized animals were "bait dogs," rather than fighters; these dogs, not surprisingly, are often the ones that suffer the most severe injuries in fighting operations.)  Some females have even given birth since being seized.

But the real test for the animals will happen over the next week or so, when the focus will switch to temperament and behavior issues that are another side effect of dogfighting.  Dr. Randall Lockwood, a 25-year veteran of such operations who serves as the ASPCA's senior vice president of anti-cruelty field services, is leading the team of behaviorists who will evaluate the dogs.

According to Lockwood, the tests the dogs will undergo are similar to those given routinely to dogs at animal shelters. Behaviorists will evaluate them for any aggressive tendencies toward people or other animals, determine how they react when items like food are given and then taken away, and note their reactions to a variety of stimuli.

Many canine victims of dogfighting operations are surprisingly willing to forgive humankind, Lockwood says, even though they've never known much kindness before being taken from abusive owners. In fact, their eagerness to please is one reason they make such effective fighters; after all, by fighting, they're merely doing what humans have asked them to do. Of the dogs Lockwood has worked with in the past, a great number were "very receptive to kind and caring interactions with people," he notes.

But this warmth toward humans can make it especially heartbreaking, he says, when behaviorists feel they have no choice but to recommend euthanasia for a former fighting dog.  Although many former fighters, notably a number of Michael Vick's pit bulls, are able to be rehabilitated and live harmoniously with people and other animals, some are not so fortunate. 

Rescuers make every effort to help dogs with behavior issues, but some are never able to overcome the aggressive tendencies that have been instilled in them by people.  Room for dogs that are aggressive toward other animals is, rather understandably, limited in rescue facilities that often house large numbers of dogs.  Very few facilities have the ability to care for dogs that must be kept separate from the rest of the animal population, even if they are amicable toward people.  It's too soon to hazard a guess, Lockwood says, about how many of the hundreds of seized dogs will be able to be rehabilitated.

Lockwood expects the evaluation process to take about a week.  With that complete, his team will give its recommendations to the court, which has the final say on the fate of the dogs and who will be given custody of them.

Michael Vick's prison sentence for dogfighting is complete
Michael Vick to work with Humane Society on its campaign against dogfighting
Supreme Court to hear case on dogfighting and freedom of speech

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A pit bull that was seized from a home in Tecumseh, Neb., as part of the multistate dogfighting raid.  Credit: Dave Weaver / Associated Press

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The question now is not how to save to the pits, but rather how to save ourselves from the pits. According to www.DogsBite.org, pits and pit types are killing people in this country on average of one every 21 days. Those who feel these dogs should be put out into the public are doing all of us an injustice.

One murder EVERY 32 MINUTES
One violent crime EVERY 6 SECONDS
One robbery EVERY 55 SECONDS
One assault EVERY 7 SECONDS
One burglary EVERY 10 SECONDS
One rape/sexual assault EVERY 2 MINUTES.
56 women are victimized by an intimate EVERY HOUR
A teenager is victimized EVERY 19 SECONDS
3 women and/or men become victims of stalking EVERY MINUTE
A child is abused and/or neglected in America EVERY 35 SECONDS
EVERY 19 SECONDS a violent crime is committed against a person at work or on duty
A person is killed in an alcohol-related traffic crash EVERY 30 MINUTES
An identity theft is reported EVERY 3 MINUTES
And you mean to tell me that Pit bulls or dogs that are part pit need to be put down?! People are more dangerous then dogs will every be. By the way those dogs you talk about are TRAINED to be aggressive. Sure some dogs are easier than others to be mean, but you need to worry about your neighbor or the bank teller before you talk about dogs.
Ps Have you every tried to pet a little dog? Not sooo nice are they?

It's very sad to see that the breed identified as "pit bull" is so hated, when it was at one time the most popular and beloved breed of dog in this country.

It is their willingness to please, as the article stated, that has made them the target of these dog fighting rings.

Punish the human and their deed, not the breed!

Having just taken in my 3rd rescue Pit Tuesday (she had been used as a bait dog) Head looks like she was placed into a meat grinder, not to mention the puncture wounds, etc. I am so pleased that FINALLY rehabilitation in lieu of certain death is a relief. All you naysayers who are apparently afraid or uninformed can cite all the anti pit crap they want, but having been around these dogs for years has taught me one thing - these are some of the most loyal dogs you will ever encounter and it is people who make them bad. We have two who came from terrible situations and one who was saved for death and they function in our home with three other dogs, cats, birds, kids and livestock and with the right supervision, exercise and love - these guys are awesome! Have not had any of them eat a baby or kill a cat - they coexist very well. They are NOT apartment dogs or dogs that should be chained - but they also should not be feared. Check out Bad Rap for really good info - HEY, PH - maybe you should give them a chance - what are you so afraid of? I barely weigh in at 100 pounds and at 5' 6' I have no problem walking three of them on leashes in public - why don't you change your negative attitude into a positive thing and head down to you local humane society and at the very least volunteer. Have to wonder why you hate them so much? A bad experience perhaps? Remember - bad owners make bad dogs.

these dogs are bred for one purpose, to kill.

these dogs should be put down immediately.

the owners of these dog fighting rings should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

You don't have to train pit bulls to fight nor any other dog TO FIGHT THERE ANIMALS FOR GOD SAKE.Pit bulls were bread a long time ago.People have abused one of the most lovable dog towards humans,but is it fair to take them from some one and kill them.I saw where dogs were taken and fifty bag of food was left.Makes me wonder if there is any truth trying to find homes.Pit bulls are great pets if u know what u have. Be a responsible owner and respect you're pit bull or any other dog.I've enjoyed several different breeds in my life pit bull is one the smartest no doubt most loyal of all.


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