Over the weekend, I received in the mail my copy of Time Magazine. In the magazine was an article -- entitled "Can attack dogs be rehabilitated" -- about the 500 dogs, mostly 'pit bulls', that were seized earlier this year in what has been called the largest dog fighting bust in history.
As a part of the bust that covered 8 states, 26 people were arrested, over 500 dogs were rescued from a life of dog fighting and abuse.
The article from Time magazine treated the dogs as (gasp!) the victims. Even though I think it's fair to question whether the title, and the premise of the article, is even a question that needs to be asked because they are, after all, just dogs, the combination of this article, and the story it tells, is a great testimony for just how far we've come in our knowledge of, and sympathy for, 'pit bulls'.
How Far Time Inc has come
On July 27th, 1987, Sports Illustrated - - a magazine owned by Time Inc., ran an article on dog fighting entitled "Beware of this Dog" -- complete with a cover story with a 'pit bull' with teeth snarling at the camera. In the same month, Time Magazine ran an article entitled "Time Bomb on Legs". This article -- from a true news magazine no less - featured dramatic and ridiculously untrue language that included the dogs breathing fire, them being the Hound of the Baskervilles, and speculative reports of 1800 lbs per square inch bite pressure (the real scientifically verified # is around 320 -- the same as all other similarly sized dogs). Incidently, the "ticking time bomb" jibberish is still quoted by a few politicians who push for breed specific legislation in spite of all the mounting evidence that it is unnecessary and ineffective.
People Magazine, also owned by Time Inc, also got into fray, with an article entitled "An Instinct for the kill".
Twenty years later, these same three magazines are starting to rebuild the image of a type of dog that they helped demolish.
Last December, Sports Illustrated ran an article entitled "Vick's Dogs, The Good News Out of Bad Newz Kennels." The cover is to the left. Not only did the article talk about the dogs that were being rehabilitated from Mike Vick's former operation, the article even included a photo gallery of many of the completely rehabilitated dogs that are now living in homes across the country. The dogs were portrayed as victims -- and rehabilitated ones at that.
People Magazine has even gotten into the act, with photos of Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls) and Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy) doing pet rescue and working with 'pit bulls'. (Heigl's image is to the left).
And now, finishing the trio of publications, is Time. The recent article, itself, is not great. It does focus on the hard work that is required with rehabilitation of dogs from these situations - with way too much emphasis on "fighting dogs" -- when in reality, they're just dogs, that happened to be used by people for the act of fighting. But at least this time, Time has the blame placed correctly. When the article questions whether the time and resources used to rehabilitate the dogs is a good use of funds, it has this to say:
Hard questions. But the answers, as we grope for them, should not be clouded by misplaced blame. A number of towns across the country have passed ordinances banning pit bulls, but what are we really seeing in the bared teeth of a snarling dog? These often terrifying animals demand pity because they have had the misfortune of meeting up with the most dangerous breed of all: the human. "Pit bulls have gotten this bad reputation because of the type of people who own them," says Humane Society investigator Tim Rickey, who led the July rescue. If these muscular terriers have a flaw, their defenders maintain, it is an excess of devotion. "Their love for humans is why this breed is in trouble," says McBee.
The photo gallery is full of pictures of cute, friendly dogs that are, indeed, the victims of the abuse of man.
My, what a difference 20 years makes.
Thirty months ago, 49 dogs were confiscated from Mike Vick's Bad Newz Kennels. At the time the dogs were "rescued", supposed humane organization HSUS declared that as "fighting dogs", all of the dogs should be killed because they would be "too dangerous" to go out into society.
In spite of HSUS's pleas to kill, the ASPCA and Bad Rap were able to convince judges to allow experts from the organizations to evaluate the dogs to see if any would be suitable for rehabilitation. Of the 49, all of the dogs except one were allowed a second chance -- either with rescue groups across the country, or with Best Friend's Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Over the time that followed, the dogs proved to be even more adaptable than most would have expected -- as the dogs responded well to the training efforts of the kind individuals and organizations that took in the dogs. During and after rehabilitation, the dogs from Bad Newz Kennels ended up on TV -- including with Racheal Ray, moving into adoptive homes, and as therapy dogs that are helping cancer patients.
However, with the overwhelming success of the rehabilitation of the Mike Vick dogs, and the increasing public pressure on HSUS, HSUS changed their policy on dogs that are seized from fight busts to allow dogs to be temperament tested for possible rehabilitation.
So when these 500 dogs were rescued from the fighting ring, it became almost a forgone conclusion that they would be tested for possible rehabilitation.
Our Pack has some great photos (one to the left) and videos of a couple of the dogs that have worked their way out to California. Our Pack rehabilitated Leo from Bad Newz Kennels who is now a therapy dog.
I know of others that have ended up in Kansas City and Tennessee as well. In total, more than 250 dogs from this bust are in foster homes or are awaiting placement. And many of them are now photographed in Time magazine. Let the rehabilitation begin.
If you or your organization would like to foster one of the dogs from Missouri Humane Society, I think they are still looking for homes. And to think that just three years ago, all of the dogs would have been killed with no thought of evaluating them.
My how far we've come
We've come a long way. Dogs that were once seen as the Hounds of Baskervilles by the media -- are now (rightfully) being seen as the victims of human abuse. Dogs that were, just 2 years ago, seen by major "humane" organizations as "too dangerous to save", are now seen (rightfully) as dogs that can be reshaped by human love and training, and can be rehabilitated into loving pets.
We still have a ways to go -- but we are definitely headed in the right direction.