Jackson, MS - The Clarion-Ledger recently published an article about the adoptability of pit bulls seized in dogfighting operations. Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends is quoted in the article. The Ledger took an interest in dogfighting after the February mauling death of Anastasia Bingham, which involved at least one fighting pit bull, an uncooperative family and a Grand Jury that assigned no charges in her death. In June, Hinds County adopted a pit bull law.1
Others quoted in the piece include Georgia Lynn, director of the Vicksburg-Warren Humane Society, who said that pit bulls that have fought or are bred to fight are "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate. "They are wired genetically different from every animal we have. Pit bulls fight to the death," Lynn said. Debra Boswell,2 director of the Jackson-based Mississippi Animal Rescue League, agreed. Boswell doesn't believe rescued fighting dogs are adoptable.
VanKavage contacted the Ledger after a recent story about a dogfighting raid in Claiborne County.3 She wrote to the Ledger, "Through thorough behavioral assessments by professionals ... many of these animals have a chance to turn their dark pasts into a bright future." She then referred to the 51 dogs seized in the Michael Vick dogfighting ring, 22 of which went to her employer Best Friends. Of these 22, only three have been adopted out to families.
VanKavage referred to the pit bulls rescued in 2008 from the infamous dogfighting ring run by NFL quarterback Michael Vick: Of the 51 dogs confiscated, 22 came to Best Friends' sanctuary.
"Three have been successfully adopted out to families," VanKavage wrote, "two are in foster-to-adopt, and four have passed the Canine Good Citizen exam, a stringent test of mastery4 of 10 community-friendly behaviors.
"One is even a therapy dog for children learning to read. The rest are making steady daily progress." Gary Pettus, "Pit bulls focus of vicious-dogs debate," The Clarion-Ledger, November 28, 2010
The Steady Daily Progress of Tug
In October, a Best Friends Vick dog, named Tug, chewed through two dog runs at the facility and attacked two dogs. Tug tore the head off of one pit bull -- a non-Vick pit bull -- and attacked Denzel -- a favored Vick pit bull and critical fundraising tool. The latter survived the attack. Best Friends released the news in a blog post by Faith Maloney, did not offer a name for the victimized pit bull, named by other sources as Beans, and blamed the incident on deer.
In 35 months, only three Best Friends Vick dogs have been "rehabilitated" and adopted into family homes. Each of these dogs came with an $18,000 dowry,5 followed by substantial dollars collected in related "Vicktory dog" fundraising campaigns. Compared to open admission city and county shelters, who often lack financial resources to house seized fighting dogs for an extended period, much less rehabilitate them, the Vicktory dog record is particularly dismal.
Even when generous funds and resources are available, pit bulls seized in dogfighting raids are unable to be rehabilitated.
The Deceptive Vicktory Fanfare
All of the fanfare by Best Friends and VanKavage that the Vicktory dogs are a huge success and ought to serve as a model for the rehabilitation of all seized fighting pit bulls reminds us of the Balloon boy hoax. Furthermore, it is "fantasy thinking" to presume that open admission shelters have the budget for such substantial, "breed-specific" pit bull projects. Pit bulls already overwhelm occupancy rates in U.S. shelters, demanding the lion share of resources.
The Ledger did not let VanKavage off the hook either. The writer merely had to choose the "three successful adoption" quote (after 35 months of rehabilitation) to show how far-fetched her claim is. The majority of open admission shelters recognize and operate in "reality," which is that pit bulls frequently make up 30-70% of occupancy -- despite only comprising 5% of the total U.S. dog population -- and accounted for nearly 60% of all dogs euthanized in 2009.
2Boswell's group is in the jurisdiction of the fatal Anastasia Bingham mauling and was the first to point out that one of the seized dogs was involved in dogfighting.
3The follow up article to the Claiborne County dogfighting raid is very educational, "Cooler weather dogfight season." We encourage DogsBite.org readers to view it.
4VanKavage refers to the Canine Good Citizen exam as a "stringent test of mastery." Yet the AKC refers to it as "the first step" in training a dog. View the CGC test requirements.
5Due to the deal struck in United States v. Michael Vick.
10/13/10: "Yard Accident" at Best Friends Involving Two Vick Dogs Leaves Third Dog Dead
06/26/10: 2010 Fatality: Terry Child, 5-years old, Killed by Neighbor's Pit Bull
08/27/09: Collection of Best Friends Animal Society Related Posts - DogsBite.org
08/24/09: 2009 U.S. Shelter Data: Pit Bulls Account for 58% of Dogs Euthanized