Vick story reinforces pit bull stereotypes



   
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Animal lovers are outraged about the dogs that were used and abused in the bloody "sport" of dog fighting at Bad Newz Kennels in Surry County, Virginia. Especially haunting are the reports of eight dogs killed there in April because they wouldn't fight hard enough. One of those dogs was doused with water and electrocuted, according to the federal indictment that alleges Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, and three other men conducted an illegal dog fighting operation.

In the eyes of the law, the men are innocent until proven guilty. In the court of public opinion, the quarterback has already been judged to be guilty in many forums, including radio and television talk shows and on Internet blogs, polls, e-mail lists and chats.

This may be a good news/Bad Newz proposition.

The good news is that more people have been made aware of dog fighting, and are voicing their opposition. Let's hope that politicians, law enforcement officials and millionaires in the sports and entertainment industries are getting the message.

The Bad Newz is this could be bad for pit bulls, especially those not used in organized dog fights, and that's most of them.

Many thousands of pit bulls are just pets that love and are loved by their owners. While the roots of these dogs go back to bull baiting and dog fighting in Merry Ole England, pit bulls were always bred to be friendly, loving and nonaggressive to people because breeders of fighting dogs don't want to be bitten by their own animals.

Calls and campaigns to end the pit bull breed have surfaced repeatedly in the past 20 years or so for three reasons: to end dog fighting, to protect the public from vicious dogs that attack and bite and to protect the pit bulls.

Born and bred to fight, pit bulls live miserable lives and would be better off dead, goes this somewhat bizarre train of thought. A more moderate view involves neutering all pit bulls, thus averting the suffering of future generations of them. At times, this view has been pushed by animal rights advocates.

My opinion is if you manage to eliminate pit bulls, dog fighters will move on to other breeds. Eliminate every big, macho or tough breed, and they'll fight cocker spaniels and toy poodles, because that's how they are.

For more than 20 years towns have been outlawing pit bulls and similar breeds, including American bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and bull terriers. Sometimes bans go after other breeds, including Rottweilers, German shepherd dogs, Doberman pinschers, Akitas and chow chows.

These bans have failed to stop organized dog fighting. Breed bans haven't stopped dog bites or attacks on people, either. All dogs have teeth and all can bite.

"Ban the deed, not the breed," is a motto of people who love the breeds of dogs often targeted in bans. Responsible dog owners have zero tolerance for owners whose dogs bite and attack people and animals. There are laws to protect the public from dangerous dogs and they should be enforced, regardless of breed.

Meanwhile, what will become of the dogs that federal officials took from Mr. Vick's kennel?

For now they're OK, because they are evidence in the case and must be preserved. They're also property, and cannot be killed or permanently removed from their owner without due process.

I keep hearing "experts" on talk shows saying that the 66 dogs -- 55 of them pit bulls -- will have to be euthanized because they were used for fighting.

Actually, many fighting dogs have been rehabilitated by knowledgeable trainers and rescue workers and adopted out to new homes. Admittedly, such dogs have to be handled with extreme care. Let's hope the Bad Newz dogs ultimately fall into the right hands.


Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.




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