Editor’s note: A word of warning — this post contains photos that some of our readers will certainly find upsetting. But we strongly believe it is important to talk about the realities of dog fighting. It’s a brutal practice, and so much about it is swept under the rug.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently opened an exhibit, “Dog Fighting: The Voiceless Victims,” at the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C. Filled with tools confiscated in dog fighting cases and accompanied by blunt descriptions, this somber yet eye-opening exhibit, which runs through Labor Day, will leave you with chilling insight into what dogs forced into fighting must endure.
Some of the objects on display look innocuous; others seem reminiscent of archaic contraptions left over from some earlier era. But to a dog forced to partake in the blood sport of dog fighting, all the items represent sadistic tools.
You’ll see a typical leather collar, but on closer investigation, you’ll realize it has been hand-modified; the inside is lined with the pointed ends of dozens of razor-sharp nails. You’ll look at a spring pole and try to picture a dog forced to hang from it — a conditioning practice intended to strengthen the fighting dog’s bite, neck, and leg muscles.
Another item appears to be a simple piece of wood –- perhaps part of a broomstick –- whittled down in size. Called a pry stick, it’s used to forcibly open an enraged dog’s mouth. Instead of the stick, “some street fighters just use a screwdriver,” adds Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects. “When we rescue dogs from a fighting situation, we often see damage [from the stick] to their teeth and the soft tissue.”
Lockwood says the goal of the exhibit is to shed light and understanding on the victims. “We want to help people move away from the trend of demonizing fighting dogs,” he says. “The dogs are innocent victims, not the perpetrators.”
As we know, fighting dogs have lives that are nothing like those of our beloved companion dogs. Lockwood points out that a fighting dog’s entire life is often spent on a short chain, except to fight or exercise. And because they must always remain isolated from other dogs, even their exercise is tightly controlled: a mechanical treadmill on display, called a slat mill, represents what these dogs know as exercise.
Other items make more chilling statements. You’ll envision the suffering of a female dog who has become so hostile that the natural act of mating is permissible only by using a contraption called a breeding stand or, more bluntly, a rape stand.
You’ll pass an item that resembles car jumper cables, but is in fact an electrocution device used for killing dogs who perpetually lose fights, or those who, in practice fights, can’t muster up the desired level of aggression. You’ll see dog fighting awards and registration papers used to boast a dog’s connections to a known fight champion. You’ll also be able to read Michael Vick’s indictment papers.
The exhibit contains exhumed bones and tools used by ASPCA veterinary forensic experts. Graves of cast-off dogs and other animals are usually found in conjunction with fighting busts. Studying these remains helps provide insight into how animals suffered and died.
It’s a somber experience, but amid the displays you’ll find signs of hope, like the story of Dragon, a rescued Pit Bull now happily settled in a loving new home. Dragon even attends doggie day care, where he enjoys playing with other dogs. “It’s seeing that resilience that keeps us going,” says Lockwood. “When given half a chance, some can learn to behave like dogs again. It depends on age, genetics, how scared they are, what they’ve been through.”
Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but it continues throughout the United States. Ranging from impromptu street fights — often stemming from gang tension or taunts — to professional fighters who breed, sell, and fight large numbers of dogs regularly, dog fighting occurs in every type of community. Even wealthy individuals have been found financing and supporting dog fighting.
“People become desensitized; they hear of things like the Vick case and think it’s just one or two situations,” says Lockwood, adding that many guests stop and pause at a map that graphically portrays how widespread the problem is.
The ASPCA and law enforcement agencies are persistent in their efforts to eradicate dog fighting. Recent legislation has been introduced that would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight, and impose stiff penalties for bringing a minor to an animal fight. We urge you to support the Animal Spectator Prohibition Act.
All photos courtesy of the ASPCA.
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