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Keeping Pit Bulls Out of the Pits

Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society offers free sterilization of pits and pit mixes

Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society offers free sterilization of pits and pit mixes

Far too often, the powerful dogs named for the medieval pits they were bred to fight in still end up in pits—modern ones, in someone’s basement rather than the town square, but no less brutal than those that existed centuries ago. Most often, investigators who raid dogfights save the drugged and tortured animals from their abusers only to have to euthanize them later in order to prevent potential injuries to people and animals in the community.

Though many breeds are used for fighting, few have suffered more than pit bulls. Their size, tenacity, and strength have made them the dog of choice for fighters, who do their best to encourage those traits. When fighting rings are busted, or when some hapless human or pet is attacked by a pit bull, the public understandably reacts; in the wake of pit bull problems, many municipalities make snap legislative judgment, considering or implementing bans on ownership of the breed.

Tail-wagging, well-trained pit bulls like this one prove what many organizations have long been saying: that dogfighting is an owner-created issue, not a breed-based one. One Chicago shelter aims to help alleviate the problem of pit-bull exploitation through its Pit Pals program, which offers free sterilization to all pits and pit mixes.
But an organization in Chicago has been lavishing pit bulls with a more positive kind of attention. Recognizing that pits are the breed most frequently targeted by fighters, in 2001, the Anti-Cruelty Society started a program called Pit Pals. Through the program, the group has been offering free sterilization for all pit bulls and pit mixes.

“In Chicago we’ve had an increasing problem with dogfighting over the past few years, along with related problems such as dogs being stolen or trained to fight,” says Kevin Morrissey, director of communications. By spaying and neutering the fighters’ favorite breed, shelter officials hope to make the dogs less aggressive, less likely to be stolen for nefarious purposes, and ultimately less attractive to fighters, says Morrissey.

The sterilization program is also aimed at reducing the numbers of pit bulls coming into Chicago-area shelters, says Morrissey. Because of their breed traits—and because many of the dogs coming into shelters arrive with unknown histories—pit bulls and pit mixes are some of the most difficult animals to place with the right kind of owners.

The Pit Pals program focuses on the sterilization side of the problem, but Chicago shelters have been attacking the problems of dogfighting and dangerous dogs in other ways, too. “We’ve been working with the city behind the scenes,” says Morrissey. “Up until a couple of years ago, the only efforts in the police department to control dogfighting was a two-person special unit that was dedicated to that. Now every beat cop is shown a film on dogfighting and given palm cards [listing relevant laws and ordinances]. ... In effect, the current effort is to use the whole police force on some level to combat the issue.”

The Anti-Cruelty Society received a $25,500 grant from PETsMART Charities in support of the program; since its inception in late 2001, over 500 dogs have been neutered. While there has been discussion in the city about banning pit bulls, the organization wants to keep the focus on the fact that dogfighting is an owner- rather than breed-based problem; recent dangerous dog legislation in Chicago has, fortunately, focused on dogs’ behavior rather than their breed.


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