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Pit Bull Fighting

Dog Fighting is one of the most barbaric 'sports' in existence today. As of 2008, dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In most states, the possession of dogs for the purpose of fighting is also a felony offense. Being a spectator at a dog fight is illegal in all states except Montana and Hawaii. (chart of state dog fighting laws and their penalties). The people who fight Pits operate underground, making them very difficult to catch and successfully prosecute. The people involved in animal fighting operate in very closed circles, and the fights themselves are held in remote and secret locations.

What is Dog Fighting?

Dog fighting is seen as those involved as a 'sport'. It is in reality a vile 'contest' where two dogs (who have been bred, conditioned and trained to fight) are put into a pit to fight each other for the entertainment and gambling pleasure of the spectators. The fights usually last about an hour, but can last longer than two hours. The 'match' ends when one of the dogs either will not or cannot carry on.

Most law enforcement experts divide dog fight activity into three categories: street fighting, hobbyist fighting and professional activity:

  • "Street" fighters engage in dog fights that are informal street corner, back alley and playground activities. Stripped of the rules and formality of the traditional pit fight, these are spontaneous events triggered by insults, turf invasions or the simple taunt, "My dog can kill yours." Many people who participate in these fights lack even a semblance of respect for the animals, often starving and beating them to encourage aggressive behavior. Many of the dogs are bred to be a threat not only to other dogs, but to people as well—with tragic consequences. 

    "Street" fights are often associated with gang activities. The fights may be conducted with money, drugs or bragging rights as the primary payoff. There is often no attempt to care for animals injured in the fight and police or animal control officers frequently encounter dead or dying animals in the aftermath of such fights. This activity is very difficult to respond to unless it is reported immediately. Professional fighters and hobbyists decry the techniques and results of these newcomers to the blood sport. 

  • "Hobbyist" fighters are more organized, with one or more dogs participating in several organized fights a year as a sideline for both entertainment and to attempt to supplement income. They pay more attention to care and breeding of their dogs and are more likely to travel across state lines for events. 

  • "Professional" dogfighters often have large numbers of animals (as many as 50 or more) and earn money from breeding, selling and fighting dogs at a central location and on the road. They often pay particular attention to promoting established winning bloodlines and to long-term conditioning of animals. They regularly dispose of animals that are not successful fighters or breeders using a variety of methods, including shooting and blunt force trauma. Unlike professional dogfighters of the past, both professionals and hobbyists of today may dispose of dogs that are too human-aggressive for the pit by selling them to "street" fighters or others who are simply looking for an aggressive dog—thus contributing to the dog bite problem.

In recent years, a fourth category of dogfighters seems to have emerged, with some wealthier individuals from the sports and entertainment worlds allegedly using their financial resources to promote professional dog fighting enterprises, which essentially use the philosophy and training techniques usually associated with street fighting. Most notable was Michael Vick who, while despicable, did bring a lot of attention to the worlds of dog fighting.

Animal Cruelty

The injuries sustained by the dogs involved in fighting are severe and frequently fatal. These dogs are extremely powerful and are capable of doing serious damage to each other. The people who fight these dogs cannot take the dogs to a regular vet for fear of exposure to the law, so they generally 'medically treat' the dogs themselves, with little to no knowledge of veterinary medicine. As a result, these dogs frequently die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion and infection.

If a dog loses a match, the owner of the 'losing dog' frequently kills the dog... and not by humane methods. The dogs who lose matches are often left to die of their injuries, are shot or even electrocuted. The owners do this out of anger because the dog has embarrassed them by losing, or has cost them a lot of money, or to keep the fighting dog bloodlines 'pure' by removing that losing dog from the gene-pool.

Some owners also train their dogs for fights by using smaller animals as bait (cats, rabbits, small dogs). These animals are usually pets that have been stolen for this use, or acquired through the 'free to good home' ads.

Fighting dogs used by all types of fighters may have their ears cropped and tails docked close to their bodies. This serves two purposes. First, it limits the areas of the body that another dog can grab onto in a fight, and second, it makes it more difficult for other dogs to read the animal's mood and intentions through the normal body language cues dogs use in aggressive encounters. Fighters usually perform this cropping/docking themselves using crude and inhumane techniques. This can lead to additional criminal charges related to animal cruelty and/or the illegal practice of veterinary medicine.

A Community Problem

Many people are either unaware or turn a blind eye to obvious signs of dog fighting in their community. They shouldn't. Dog Fighting is a community problem for many reasons, including:

  • Dog fighters are often involved in the sale and possession of drugs, as well as illegal weapons. The weapons are present due to the large amount of cash present for betting upon the matches.
  • Dog fighters and spectators have a history of violent and criminal behavior towards people.
  • Dog fighting is another entertainment activity for gangs.
  • It is not uncommon for dog fighters or spectators to involve their children in dog fighting. Research shows that young children who view this type of violence have a greater acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behavior. These children are taught to believe that it's ok to inflict the cruelties they observe and that dog fighting is an acceptable practice.
  • The dogs that are used for fighting have been selectively bred for animal aggression. Their presence in the community increases the risk of attacks on other animals and also people.

What can I do to help?

  • For more information, a copy of your state's statute, or for tips on how to make your state's law more effective, you can contact the HSUS Government Affairs Section at 202-452-1100 or email legislation@hsus.org
  • If you suspect that dog fighting is going on in your neighborhood, alert your local law enforcement agency. You can also click here to report dog fighters.
  • The Humane Society of the United States has a comprehensive list of ways in which you can get involved in helping to stop this heinous activity.