ANIMAL WATCH-There have been no dog-fighting convictions in the city of Los Angeles since Brenda Barnette was appointed as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services in 2010, according to a member of the Los Angeles Animal Cruelty Task Force, which is now part of LA Police Department. The felony charges upheld against Arnett William Counts and Walter Citizen was the last successful trial in 2008.
Although they regularly receive reports of suspected dog fights, unless officers receive a call and can arrive during an event or receive a tip that leads to a location where the dogs are kept, along with the paraphernalia that indicates intent or training for fighting and/or scarred, injured or neglected dogs, it is difficult to prove criminal activity or intent.
There is an on-call detective assigned to the ACTF at night, but most initial responses to calls are made by patrol officers receiving 911 calls, not animal control officers.
Brenda Barnette was a former dog breeder and headed the small Seattle Humane Society before she came to LA. She also had no background in law-enforcement. In fact, during her confirmation by the City Council she said she would rely on the LA Police Department to enforce animal-cruelty laws. Then-Councilman Richard Alarcon retorted sharply that, as GM, that would be her job.
However, animal control officers' duties and importance in the Department have diminished under Barnette. One reason could be that enforcing laws means more abused, stray and abandoned animals are brought into the shelter and might negatively affect the City's "No Kill" goal, which reaps large donations from major humane organizations.
If successful, Brenda Barnette and Councilman Paul Koretz' continuing efforts to raise or eliminate dog limits will insure that it becomes increasingly difficult to address dog fighting and other serious crimes. The three-dog limit allows a reasonable threshold for seeking entry to the property and requesting the right to inspect conditions for the animals.
DOG FIGHTING IN LOS ANGELES
Experts claim that 70% of all dogs in California shelters are Pit Bulls or mixes, and LAAS is not an exception, according to the photos and descriptions of dogs available for adoption.
Numerous online ads for Los Angeles Pit Bull breeders with kennel names and descriptions of pups with the physical characteristics and bloodlines of dogs used for combat shows that there is still a thriving market for "game" dogs in Los Angeles.
CLAIMS OF 'BAIT DOGS' AND DOG FIGHTING IN LA
Activists and local rescuers are very concerned about dog fighting and its victims. But how accurate are reports by some that "bait dogs" are the victims of dog fighters? And, based upon the speculative nature of such claims, what is the motivation to contact the media? For some, it is to warn pet owners of possible perceived dangers. For others it seems as much motivated by the opportunity to solicit donations.
On March 20, a local “rescuer” who identified herself as running her own nonprofit called The Saving Slim Foundation," appeared on KABC news and told reporter Gabriela Milian about Andrew, a Pit Bull-mix she had "saved' from the Carson (LA County) shelter and said that, "Based off of the scars on his head, neck and back legs [she] thinks Andrew was "bait" for a dog fighting ring."
A description under the video states, "The scars on Andrew the pit bull mix's body show that he was probably bait in a dog fighting ring. Here are the things to know to protect pets.".
WHAT WAS THE LAAS DIRECTOR OF FIELD OPERATIONS THINKING?
LA Animal Services was apparently contacted by ABC News to contribute to this story, but it was shocking to hear the embarrassingly inept response by Annette Ramirez, newly appointed Director of Field Operations and former member of the S.M.A.R.T team and the Animal Cruelty Task Force, when she was interviewed about "bait" dogs.
Instead of explaining the realities of the gruesome "blood sport" of dog fighting and encourage reporting it, it is shameful this long-time LA Animal Services officer, now in charge of managing LAAS shelters, instead broadcast this inane description of "bait" dogs:
"Bait dogs are basically a dog that someone who's training for dog fighting uses to build up their dog's mental state. It may back off or not protect itself at all, which allows a dog that's being trained to really cause harm and injury to that dog. Without it inflicting any harm or injury to the dog for fighting, so that the next time it's a little bit bolder."
What is she talking about? What is a fighting dog’s mental state that will make it a "little bit bolder?" Dog fighting is about doing the most damage to an opponent in the least amount of time and killing ASAP, if possible.
Even if we are left scratching our heads about her description of a "bait dog," it is inexcusable to waste this golden opportunity to describe the obvious indicators of a possible dog-fighting operation and advise immediate reporting of any suspected or known dog fighting in the city of Los Angeles to the Animal Cruelty Task Force.
The rescuer who was interviewed gave some better advice, "Personally, I don't think you should ever give a dog for free on craigslist. You should always place a value on that animal. Check some background references, you know screen them."
This is excellent information, because many people who criminally torture and/or kill domestic pets report they got them "free" on Craigslist. Of course, now pets are given away free at many shelters, including LA Animal Services (subsidized by donations), which means there is no investment made by the adopter and less guarantee of a good home for an unwanted pet.
DO DOG FIGHTERS USE 'BAIT' DOGS
The rescuer claimed, "Bait dogs are really the ones in the most danger because the dogs in the fighting rings are usually bred to fight and not just picked up off of the street."
This is not true. Most dog fighters would not just pick up an animal off the street for fear of disease and unknown disposition. They are more likely to steal what they believe to be a good potential fighter or breeding dog from a targeted yard (another reason to have a pet spayed/neutered early) -- but stealing a Pit Bull always has its safety risks.
Dog fighters are known to get Pit Bulls from animal shelters, where "game" aggressive dogs are not quickly snatched as pets and have received shots. Sadly, more than one shelter has had a dog returned after it was fought and badly injured.
COULD THE 'BAIT' DOG JUST BE A LOSER?
It is very possible that most of those who contact the media with "bait" dog stories (which easily attract a sympathetic audience) truly believe the validity of their claims.
However, their stories are not backed by evidence, and there are a number of ways the dog could have incurred the injuries -- the main one being that it lost a fight, either planned or spontaneous, and was abandoned to die -- which is equally sad, but does not emphasize the victimization needed to solicit funds or find a new home for the dog.
IS THERE A PATTERN FOR RECENT ‘BAIT DOG’ CAMPAIGNS?
Heart-wrenching pleas -- usually followed by a request for donations -- inform us that the animal was confined, cut to produce the "smell of blood," hung by its legs, had its muzzle taped or is otherwise constrained so that it cannot protect itself and is bitten, slashed and its flesh ripped open by its attacker, for the purpose of learning to kill another animal without any risk of retaliatory injury. Here are a few examples:
November 3, 2018 - Bait Dogs Used for Deadly Sport (NBC - Los Angeles)
Officials said dog fighters looking for bait animals often search the web, classifieds such as Craigslist and other social media sites for pets that people are giving away.
August 20, 2017 - Bait Dog Found Covered In Bites Smiles For His Rescuers …
The dog's spirit was broken. At least, that's what it looked like to Melanie Pafford as she peered behind the dumpster in a rough section of ...
February 28, 2012 - Animals Found Clinging To Life After Being Used As Bait In Dog Fighting Circuit (CBS)
Willa the Pit Bull Ran Away from Her Life as a Bait Dog...(5 years ago) ....
Willa, a sweet blue pit bull, was found wandering along the streets of Los Angeles earlier this year. Her rescuers found her starved and suffering from infected abscesses, reports...
One pitbull mix who was likely used as a bait dog in a dogfighting ring overcomes her painful past, showing her resilience and the power of ...
March 1, 2012 - Bait Animals Found Clinging To Life After Being Used In Dog Fighting Dog experts say the worst of the fighting rings are concentrated in areas throughout Los Angeles, mainly in Pacoima, Panorama City, Sylmar ...
Feb. 8, 2012 - Injured pit bull used as 'bait dog' in fighting ... Los Angeles Times - Police are trying to find the owners of a pit bull that was found injured on a street in Linthicum and may have been used ...
Sept. 17, 2010 Former dogfighting 'bait dog' escapes euthanasia at Southern ...
A German shepherd who survived life as a "bait dog" for a dogfighting ... avoided being euthanized at a Los Angeles County animal shelter, has ...
NORTHERN IRELAND DISPELLED THE 'BAIT' DOG MYTH
On March 27, 2013, the BBC News reported, Dog-fighting 'bait' story may be just an urban myth, which exposed an internet rumor that "has been causing dog owners some concerns, with even the police being drawn into repeating an urban legend." (following are excerpts):
Since the start of March, social network users in Northern Ireland have been urging dog owners to be extra careful with their pets. Messages on Facebook and Twitter have been warning of stickers being used to mark houses where there are dogs that are then stolen for use as bait animals in dog fighting.
The animal charity, the USPCA, said that since the break-up of a dog-fighting ring seven years ago, they had no evidence that it had returned in an organized way. "When dogs are stolen it is mostly for breeding purposes," he said.
"According to a website that monitors the appearance and popularity of urban myths, this rumour took off in Australia earlier this month and has been travelling around the globe since then.
FIGHTING DOGS TRAINING: ‘BAIT’ ANIMALS
All fighting dogs are conditioned from a very early age to develop what dog-fighters refer to as “gameness.” The scope and method of training varies dramatically depending on the level and experience of the dog-fighter. The bait animals are caged or kept from the dogs until the training is ended for the day in order to reward the dog.
Catmill/Jenny: Apparatus that looks like a carnival horse walker with several beams jetting out from a central rotating pole. The dogs are chained to one beam and another small animal like a cat, small dog, or rabbit, is harnessed to or hung from another beam. The dogs run in circles, chasing the bait. Once the exercise sessions are over, the dogs are usually rewarded with the bait they had been pursuing.
Springpole/Jumppole: A large pole with a spring hanging down to which a rope, tire, or animal hide is affixed that the dogs jump to and dangle from for extended periods of time. This strengthens the jaw muscles and back legs. The same effect is achieved with a simpler spring-loaded apparatus hanging from tree limbs. A variation of the springpole is a hanging cage, into which bait animals are placed. The dogs repeatedly lunge up toward the cage.
DOG FIGHTERS TALK ABOUT 'BAIT' DOGS
Although there are some people merely bloodthirsty and who enjoy cruelty for the sake of causing and observing pain, professional or serious dog fighters say that the claims of the use of Pit Bulls (called "bulldogs" in the game) as "bait" is not true.
A dog is usually not "rolled" (trial fight) until it is about 19 months old. At that time a controlled fight may be conducted briefly -- often with its mother or another young dog -- to determine the dog's propensity for fighting and to gauge its fighting style.
Here are some of the reasons they give for not using "bait" dogs for training:
- Fighting dogs often will not attack a "cold dog"-- a dog that does not fight back.
- Don't use strange dogs as "bait dogs" in order to not risk injury to their dog.
- Dog cannot be "trained" to fight if they are not "game." If they are game, they will fight without "bait" training.
- Don't risk exposure to disease from a strange dog.
- Do not want the cost of feeding any dog that is not winning fights or producing puppies.
- Most fighting dogs have no more than three fights (Champions) before they risk 'burn out' or fatal injury. (Some win five fights and are Grand Champs.)
- Don't risk a good fighting dog being injured by a "bait" animal.
‘WHAT, EXACTLY IS A BAIT DOG?’
Here's a quote that sums it all up and could be used by LA Animal Services next time it is asked:
What is a Bait Dog? Myth vs Fact: "While we hate that there are people who would abuse animals, the term 'bait dogs' is very overused by the well-intentioned but misinformed.
Unless there are witnesses to the cause of injury, mysterious bite marks on a dog remain an unhappy mystery with an unknown perpetrator.
To shout, "bait dog" whenever a dog with bites appears keeps a popular myth alive and may actually be encouraging copycats by offering animal abusers ideas we would rather they didn't have."
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.