To Hollywood actor and animal rights activist Chris DeRose, there are two types of dogfighters. There is the street fighter, the man who pits dog against dog in alleys and vacant lots. And the professional, the man who will pay $40,000 for a dog as well as breed his own from past winners, organizing and participating in pre-planned fights. To DeRose, president of Last Chance for Animals, they’re both cowards. Since founding the organization in 1984, DeRose has been instrumental in protecting animals of all kinds from societal abuse.
“There is no more cowardly act than to do something like this, to send another being out there to try to represent who you are when you don’t have the courage to do it yourself,” says DeRose. “It really has to be driven home to these young guys who are doing this, who want to be gangsters, that it is cowardly.”
And so it is that an All-American “hero” has purportedly come to embody the definition of a “coward” himself, bringing this horrific blood sport to national attention: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick recently pleaded guilty to a federal dog fighting charge. Authorities seized 66 dogs (mostly Pit Bulls) from the football star’s Virginia property, and in an 18-page indictment, charged Vick and three other men with putting some of the losing dogs to death by electrocution, hanging and drowning during the years their dog fighting ring, Bad Newz Kennels, was in operation. His sentencing is in December, Vick faces up to five years in prison.
Yet it is not the first time an all-star player has been indicted on these types of charges. In 2005 alone, football player LeShon Johnson pled guilty to possessing fighting dogs, and basketball player Qyntel Woods faced charges of animal abuse as well.
“I think a lot of these guys that do it – Michael Vick himself – they’re angry, they’re angry about something about themselves, and they take it out on these animals,” says DeRose. “It’s a release of aggression to watch these animals tear each other apart.”
It is a scary thought, but as many as 40,000 people in the United States participate in this criminal act against dogs, according to the Last Chance for Animals organization. But it is certainly not a new pastime: incidents of dog fighting date back to ancient Rome, where gladiator dogs would fight against wild animals in the Colosseum. Fast forward to just before the Civil War, when fighting dogs were imported to the United States and cross-bred to create a dog capable of putting all the other voracious breeds to shame: the American Pit Bull Terrier. Though dog fighting is now a felony in 48 states (Idaho and Wyoming the exceptions), people nonetheless are still betting thousands upon thousands of dollars on these animals – and in turn creating a dangerous environment for entire neighborhoods. “These people are armed, they have drugs, they gamble,” says DeRose. “It’s bringing in criminal elements to the whole community.”
Luckily, there are now organizations like Last Chance for Animals that investigate these horrific acts while raising awareness. Although DeRose says dog fighting can be a difficult underground activity to infiltrate, his organization has made strides by using informants to track down perpetrators. “We’re working on it,” he says. “You’ll see a lot more rings getting busted as time goes on.”
In the meantime, what can you do to help? While DeRose strongly cautions against getting directly involved if you become a witness, he does suggest contacting your local law enforcement agency (and/or Last Chance for Animals) immediately. “These things can be done anywhere,” he says. “The dogs don’t make a lot of noise.”
For more information visit: lcanimal.org.