pets safe from thefts: They become
fighters -- or bait
July 24, 1999)
arrived early Christmas morning. No one
was working. The guard wasn't around.
They hopped the fence and snipped the
lock on the gate. Then they rolled the
van in and started loading.
weren't after TVs, VCRs, computers or
camcorders. They wanted pit bulls,
valuable fighting dogs, battle-scarred,
conditioned to kill, the same
dogs that had been seized weeks earlier
last December from a dog fighting ring in
loaded 18 dogs and made their escape.
And they would have gotten away with it,
too, except the pit bulls -- as fighting
dogs are apt to do -- got in a fight in
the back of the van.
the fray, the driver started weaving and
caught the attention of a passing police
officer. Lights flashed in the pre-dawn
darkness. The van pulled over. The
dogs landed back at the Sacramento
County animal shelter from where they
town at the Sacramento Animal Control
and Care Center, workers used to arrive
in the mornings and find the same
ominous signs: holes cut in the back
fence and dog cages pried open.
Kubo, who runs the shelter, said about
25 dogs, all pit bulls and Rottweilers,
were stolen during one six-month period
last year before motion detectors and
bigger fences were installed. "We
suspect dog fighting was the motive
because they were taking the more
aggressive breeds," he said.
to Eric Mindel of the Los Angeles-based
animal advocacy group Last Chance for
Animals, unless a broken lock or an open
cage is left behind as evidence it's
hard to tell how many missing dogs -- up
to 3 million a year nationwide -- are
stolen. But he said the majority of dogs
swiped from shelters, back yards and
back alleys are taken to fuel a growing
dog-fighting industry that ranges from
sophisticated rings with purses worth
$100,000 to basement brawls among rival
say it's not just the aggressive breeds
that are disappearing. Any dog -- or cat
-- is welcome in the underground world
of dog fighting.
an animal is stolen it tends to be the
less aggressive, more friendly ones that
won't give a hassle," said Barry
Kent Mackay of the Animal Protection
Institute in Sacramento. "People
think, 'I won't have any problems
because I have such a beloved dog.
'”But that's exactly the kind that
some of these people go after."
smaller, meeker breeds are dubbed
"bait dogs" and have one
purpose -- to turn the marquee fighters,
almost exclusively the American pit bull
terrier, into killers.
an ordinary pit bull is placed in a ring
against a veteran fighter, it won't
stand a chance against the snapping
chops of its seasoned opponent, said
Last Chance for Animals' Roland Vincent.
The goal, he said, is to take a family
pet and program it to attack another
animal on command, a process known as
the dog to a treadmill and placing a cat
just out of reach is one way this is
accomplished. After hours of chasing the
cat and going nowhere the dog is
rewarded by getting an opportunity to
kill. Not only is the dog physically
stronger after the sessions, it is
rewarded with blood.
match-ups can be even more one-sided.
Like a human prizefighter who works his
way to the top of the sport by
progressively fighting more skilled
opponents, dog-sparring sessions begin
against weaker and often injured foes.
said trainers will take a pit bull and
pair it with a stolen collie or spaniel
and begin to taunt the fighter into a
salivating rage. Sometimes, to make sure
the sparring partner doesn't put up much
of a fight or run away, the trainers
will injure the bait dog or even break
idea is for the pit bull to be trained
and acclimated toward killing and that's
done by abuse," Vincent said.
"The more abusive someone is to the
animal, the more reward they get --
which is to attack, bite and kill."
time the dog grows strong, mean and
unrecognizable. Detective Chris Sanford
of the Galt Police Department, which
last December broke up a dog-fighting
ring that used 55 pit bulls, said the
dogs seemed a breed apart from the pit
bulls he'd seen before. "They're
lean and muscular and they had scars all
over them," he said. “It looks
like someone shot them in the face with
Sakach, the director of the West Coast
regional office of the Humane Society of
the United States, has worked undercover
to bust dog-fighting rings from Florida
to California. According to Sakach, the
people who run the high-level rings
don't take unnecessary risks by stealing
dogs and cats in someone's yard. Those
brazen thefts, he said, usually involve
street-level dog fighters who engage
their dogs in turf disputes or who
simply use winning pit bulls as a status
there are other ways to find a cat.
search newspapers for "free to good
home" ads, Sakach said, or may ride
through rural areas looking for dogs and
cats that are running loose. "When
people put those ads in the paper,
they’re unwittingly putting their
animals at risk," he said.
pet thieves have other motives.
Last September, for example, someone
stole an 8-year-old yellow Labrador
retriever from a legally blind woman and
brought it to the Sacramento County
animal shelter on Bradshaw Road to be
euthanized. As workers prepared to put
the dog to sleep, they noticed it
responded to hand signals -- common with
"assistance dogs" trained to
help disabled or elderly owners.
few phone calls later, they found the
woman and the dog was returned to her
owner. Shelter director Pat Wilcox said
the dog apparently was taken by the
woman's former caretaker, who was
dismissed months earlier.
"bunchers" -- people who
collect cats and dogs -- have also been
known to steal pets that end up in
research laboratories and even a peeved
homeowner who can no longer stand the
incessant backyard barking, might sneak
next door in the dead of night and steal
said black animals used for ritualistic
sacrifices tend to disappear around
Halloween. And he said hunting dogs,
especially beagles and hounds, are often
pilfered in the United States and taken
to Canada to augment teams of dogs that
track bear and other big game. If they
get torn up or lost in the process,
Mackay said, no one cares as the dogs
are stolen anyway.
though Sakach has seen dog-fighting
rings across the country --
investigators often stumble across the
grisly remains of bait dogs, he says –
the Galt case was one of the biggest.
addition to dog-fighting equipment like
treadmills and bite sticks, authorities
found hours of videotape that recorded
the bloody fights. In some footage,
Sakach said, "dogs' legs are broken
and you can hear an audible snap."
a business," Sakach said.
"It's a bloody business. It's a
cruel business, but it's a business
to Why Spay & Neuter