As with any other illegal underground activity, it is impossible to determine how many people may be involved in dogfighting. Estimates based on fight reports in underground dogfighting publications, and on animals entering shelters bearing evidence of fighting, suggest that the number of people involved in dogfighting in the U.S. is more than 140,000.
BAD cannot reduce the incidence of animal fighting in Milwaukee County without the continued support of law enforcement agencies and the public.
Dogfighting involves placing two dogs in a pit where they must fight in front of spectators until one dog becomes too injured or exhausted to continue. These dogs often die from dehydration, blood loss, infection, exhaustion or shock as a result of a fight and owners kill many of the losing dogs by gunshot or other method.
Dogfighting is a sadistic gambling “contest” in which two dogs, specifically bred and trained to fight, are placed together for the purpose of attacking and mauling each other to earn money for their owners and entertain spectators. Dogfights end when one of the dogs is no longer able or willing to continue.
Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) considers animal fighting one of the cruelest examples of inhumane treatment towards animals for it involves the purposeful decision to allow, and in fact encourage, animals to harm each other. Currently, dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states.
“Street” dogfights generally takes place in basements, garages, abandoned warehouses, and alleys. The secretive nature of these organized events makes it difficult to identify training and fighting locations. 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 of these participants lack even a semblance of respect for the animals they fight, forcing them to train while wearing heavy chains to build stamina, and picking street fights in which they could get seriously hurt. 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.
In Wisconsin, any involvement in dogfighting can make you a felon:
• Own or possess a dog used for dogfighting
• Breed a dog used for dogfighting
• Train a dog used for dogfighting
• Sell a dog used for dogfighting
• Wager money or anything of value on the result of such dogfighting
• Host a dogfight
• Transport a dog used for dogfighting
• Advertise for dogfighting
• Even BEING A SPECTATOR of a dogfight can be charged as a felony (second offense)
These felony charges face serious punishment with jail time of up to
10 years and $15,000 in fines.
What Goes on in a Dogfight?
Usually the fight takes place in a pit that is between 14 and 20 feet square, with sides that may be plywood, hay bales, chain link or anything else that can contain the animals. The flooring may be dirt, wood, carpet or sawdust. The pit has “scratch lines” marked in opposite corners, where the dogs will face each other from 12 to 14 feet apart.
In a more organized fight, the dogs will be weighed to make sure they are approximately the same weight. Handlers will often wash and examine the opponent’s dog to remove any toxic substances that may have been placed on the fur in an attempt to harm the opposing dog. At the start of the fight, the dogs are released from their corners and usually meet in the middle, seeking to get a hold on the opponent, often shaking and tearing to maximize damage. Dogs often become “fanged,” with the tooth of one dog embedded in the skin of its opponent. Becoming “fanged” may require the use of a “breaking stick” to pry the animals apart.
Fights can last several hours. Both animals may suffer injuries ranging from puncture wounds, lacerations and blood loss to dehydration, crushing injuries and/or broken bones. Although fights are not technically fought to the death, many dogs succumb to their injuries.
Unless they have had a good history of past performance or come from valuable bloodlines, losing dogs are often discarded, killed, or left untreated. If the losing dog is perceived to be a particular embarrassment to the reputation or status of its owner, it may be executed in a particularly brutal fashion as part of the “entertainment.”
The Life of a Fighting Dog: Life in Endless Brutality, Death in the Ring
American pit bull terriers are most often used in the majority of these fights and have been specifically bred and trained for fighting and are unrelenting in their attempts to overcome their opponents. With their extremely powerful jaws, they are able to inflict severe bruising, deep puncture wounds, and broken bones. Dogs used in these events often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion, or infection hours or even days after the fight.
Fighting dogs must be kept isolated from other dogs, so they spend most of their lives on short, heavy chains, often just out of reach of other dogs. They are usually poorly socialized to any other dogs and to most people. However, many “professional” fighters invest much time and money in conditioning their animals. They are often well fed, given basic veterinary care, and exercised under controlled conditions where they will have limited contact with other dogs, such as on a treadmill or “jenny.”
Many dogfighters will invoke various acts of cruelty to condition the dogs to be more aggressive, including locking them in dark spaces for long periods of time to mentally break them, starvation, physical abuse, and even feeding them gun powder.
The conditioning of fighting dogs may also make use of a variety of legal and illegal drugs, including anabolic steroids to enhance muscle mass and encourage aggressiveness. Narcotic drugs may also be used to increase the dogs’ aggression and mask pain during a fight. Young animals are often trained or tested by allowing them to fight with other dogs while muzzled or leashed in well-controlled “rolls.” Those who show little inclination to fight may be discarded or killed at an early age. Some fighters will use stolen pets as “bait dogs” or sparring partners.
The injuries inflicted and sustained by dogs participating in dogfights are frequently severe, and often fatal. Dogs who may survive a fight often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or infection hours or even days after the fight.
Saving Dogs from Torture: Individually Assessed
Fighting dogs have been bred and trained to inflict injuries on other animals, and are difficult to house and care for. They are often relatively friendly to people, since such people have been the only source of food and attention—but they can be unpredictable around other animals. Concerns about liability, public safety and other risks mean that many animals seized from such operations are not adoptable, meaning they cannot be considered candidates for successful placement, and often have to be euthanized.
However, BAD believes in individually assessing every seized fighting dog. Dogs will be carefully evaluated by trained animal behavior professionals at MADACC, and their placement is dependent on the support of MADACC’s adoption partners and willing foster homes. All rescued dogs must be and will be monitored over the long term.
Yes – Dogfighting Does Happen in Milwaukee
Some signs that might indicate there is dogfighting occurring in your neighborhood include:
People walking their dogs with large heavy chains, such as bike chains, and spike collars
Dogs with fresh wounds or numerous scars
People transferring dogs in the trunks of their cars
Dogs that are overly aggressive towards people or other animals, particularly dogs that are fierce without any provocation
People leaving dogs in empty apartments or abandoned buildings