A local legislator (R) was approached by a bunch of humaniacs about "bait dogs" being found in the area. Of course, it was nonsense, but this legislator (with 19 lawyers on her staff, according to her) obviously did NO research. It took me ONE DAY to find the following FACTS. You be the judge. This is not a unique case - this is how misinformation, lack of critical thinking and lack of regard for the truth lead to things like the "bait dog myth" which in turn causes horrific consequences not only for American pit bulls but their owners.
Words Matter: Why the “Bait Dog” Myth Should Be Allowed To Die
Written by Diane Jessup 2018
This session, Republican representative Gina Mosbrucker sponsored House bill 1919 which at first glance seems a good thing; after all, who wouldn’t support even more laws against the fighting, stealing or abuse of dogs? Yet House bill 1919 stands as a conspicuous example of the unintended consequences when shoddy research takes the place of actual fact-finding and critical thinking is disregarded in favor of pure emotionalism.
On April 12th I asked Ms. Mosbrucker what prompted her to put the time and resources into her “bait dog” bill considering the number and importance of the many bills brought to her for action. Her reply was that “a couple of her constituents in the Yakima Valley” brought to her attention the discovery of some dead dogs, a few bound with rope or tape, found in ditches along Yakima county roads. Mosbrucker saw it this way in a widely quoted media statement: “Pets are coming up missing from people’s yards throughout Washington and the bodies are later found disposed of in local ditches, many with their mouths taped shut. It’s a part of a dog fighting ring. Animals are being used for bait for fighter dogs and then abandoned to suffer and die”.
That’s quite a leap. And for those who are experts in the field, it’s a nonsensical leap that not only isn’t based on fact, it does nothing to address the real issues; ownership practices of at-risk dogs and the dangerously deviant humans who torture pets and may go on to pose a threat to public safety.
Retiring after twenty years as an animal control officer; I know a bit about what happens to dogs wandering in the neighborhood. I’ve been POST certified as an expert in dog and cock fighting while conducting training for law enforcement in animal fighting investigations, including classes at our own Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. I’ve published books and numerous articles on the American pit bull including a well-received book I co-wrote with Louis Colby, whose family has bred and fought American pit bulls for over one hundred years. My research library includes every “underground” dog fighting magazine printed from 1927 to the 1990s. I mention this because in not one of them, where training methods are painstakingly discussed, is there one reference to the use of “bait dogs”, rather, experienced dog fighters often cautioned against the ill-effects of turning a fighting pit bull loose on a non-pit bull breed.
I’m presenting the following information because, along with other experts on the issue, I know the “bait dog” story is myth. I’ll show you how it started, how it grew and why it persists today. Like many people, I love my dogs as family and my concern is how those who give the “bait dog” myth unwarranted attention turn public awareness away from the real issues behind those dead dogs in the ditch.
In the very few cases where disturbed individuals have acted out against pet animals in the name of “dog fighting”, it can be shown that media coverage of “bait dog” stories drove their actions. Compared with lured tales of blood splashed killer dogs owned by gangs and “rings”, what experts know gets little press; truth is often like that. In her meticulously researched best seller, PIT BULL: The Battle Over An American Icon, author Bronwen Dickey quotes Chris Schindler, then the head of animal fighting investigations for the HSUS, who oversees 80 plus dog fighting investigations a year, as saying, “this idea is mostly a myth. If ‘bait dogs’ exist today it is only because media outlets have repeatedly published incorrect and outlandish stories, which then inspire the actions of disturbed individuals – who were not involved in professional dog fighting.” Schindler and his colleague Janette Reever further stated that “if there was one term that they wished both activists and the media would stop using, its “bait dog”.
But the concept of “bait dogs” works for those who use it. Any animal control officer or rescue worker can tell you that the injured, abused, soon-to-be-euthanized animal is the big seller. A “bait dog” story, attached to any dog makes it practically irresistible to the heroes among us. The “bait dog” myth made its prime-time public debut on March 3, 1980 on the popular Mary Tyler Moore spin-off, “Lou Grant”. The story line was classic “bait dog” stuff; a five pound Yorkshire terrier stolen away to be utilized as a sparring partner to “train” fighting dogs. This somber (and very inaccurate) episode introduced the American public to a message the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and ASPCA were working hard to spread; that “underground rings” of sadistic men were kidnapping defenseless pets, rendering them even more helpless by taping muzzles shut or placing them in burlap sacks, then utilizing them to “train” fighting dogs. The stories were blatant lies and based on nothing factual, but it had those elements which make the American public sit up, take notice – and donate.
The HSUS had learned about the power of public sentiment and anxiety concerning their pets back in the mid-sixties. In 1965 the owners of a pet Dalmatian found out their “Pepper” was stolen, sold to a dog dealer and ultimately ended up gutted at a research lab testing pace-makers. This was a start of a national hue and cry over laboratory practices. In 1966 LIFE magazine ran a photo-piece on an HSUS raid of a “dog dealer” who sold to laboratories. Highlighted was the fact that some of the dogs were stolen family pets. The narrative was clear: without the work of the HSUS, this could be your pet dog! The HSUS had hit a nerve and they knew it; LIFE magazine received more letters concerning this one article than it ever had before on any subject in the turbulent sixties.
Animal protection became big business; sensationalism sells. It was 1974 and the “bait dog” myth was about to take off. When New York Times reporter Wayne King was invited to attend a dog fight as the guest of two well-known fighters, he was there to get as salacious a story as possible. Now drugs and alcohol have always been a big part of the dog fighting scene, and his two hosts, Pat Bodzianowski and Sonny Sikes were probably feeling no pain. They wanting to impress the reporter with their wild, machismo hobby and just what type of “hard” hombres they were. Dickey, in PIT BULL: The Battle Over An American Icon, reports that Jack Kelly (editor of the “underground” dog fight magazine Sporting Dog Journal and former police officer) who knew both men, insisted that because King was asking such ridiculous questions, Bodzianowski and Sikes decided to “mess” with him by making up the craziest stories they could think of (kittens placed in sacks to “train” the dogs, etc.) An ex dog fighter whom I know well claims to have been at that same fight, and states that this is indeed what happened.
The media went wild. Soon the Chicago Tribune was reporting that a fighting pit bull was trained on “more than one hundred small dogs and cats during training”. Frank McMahon (of all people) said that each dog was “trained on kittens or smaller dogs, and its not uncommon for the animals to be splashed with blood to excite their instincts to attack and kill.” No claim was too outrageous. Roger Caras, speaking for the HSUS, repeated this the unfounded blood spattering story on the Today Show.
Representative Mosbrucker had assured me that she had a large pool of lawyers researching the legitimacy of the concerns for House Bill 1919. I wanted to know where her research lawyers had come up with their “bait dog” intelligence. When pressed, she stated that the majority of their research was based on “stories from Facebook”, other social media outlets and media reports.
I did a little quick research of my own and this is what I found concerning some of the reported “cases” which had alerted her to the “bait dog problem”:
Case One: Mosbrucker states “I have a constituent who told me she found three dead dogs in the ditch when she went home. All three had their mouths duct-taped and they were sliced on their sides.” From this evidence she concluded “Many dogs are being stolen out of yards where someone will take their dog out and then it will disappear. Their mouths were duct-taped, and then they were sliced and put into rings to fight repeatedly.”
But there is a problem. A big one.
The dogs did not show signs of having been attacked by dogs. Any dogs. Certainly not “fought repeatedly”. Gary Moravec, owner of a red pit bull named Buddy whose picture in the Yakima Herald claims he is a dog fight survivor, is quoted in the paper as saying bait dogs are “cut and hung over fighting dogs, which become ferociously vicious because of the dripping blood.” Shades of 1974. Moravec is a kind man who became known in the area for taking the time and trouble to bury other people’s dead dogs. Dogs who, apparently unsupervised, were killed in various ways, like one young Rottweiler pup which had been hit by a car. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture. But for the record, the handsome Buddy shows no signs of pit fighting and an article in the Herald quotes his veterinarian as stating the dog had only cigarette burns and a few cuts.
Another animal lover, Shelly Cort who has worked with Yakima Valley Pet Rescue, buys into the “bait dog” myth, despite the fact that none of the three dogs had dog bite wounds. “Someone said these pit bull fighting people,” she is quoted in the Yakima Herald as saying, “that’s what they do when they use them for bait – they cut their necks so they bleed and tape their mouths shut so they can’t bite back.” Who the “someone” is who told her this you can bet is not an expert on dog fighting.
Terry Mills, director of the ASPCA’s Blood Sport Field Investigations and Response Team has attended more than 80 dog fights posing as a professional dog fighter for 18 months. His work resulted in the arrest of 103 people in eight states. He is on record as denying that “bait dogs” were ever used by anyone.
Case Two: A case which garnered much social media attention was that of “Sox”, an elderly Boxer who was let outside and never came home. Sox was found with his feet tied, dead, and dumped on the side of a road. On social media his death has been lumped in with the other “bait dog” stories even though Sox had no external injuries on his body and no known cause of death.
Case Three: Honey, a little pit bull found tied to a cement block and left to die was found starved and with her mouth taped shut. Shelly Cort kindly took over responsibility for the dog and suggested she was a “bait dog” despite the fact that the dog had no evidence of having been fought and her wounds were long and straight – like a knife wound.
Along with the nation’s most active dog fight investigators, I ask that the “bait dog” myth be allowed to die. The furtherance of the myth can only inspire disturbed individuals to acts of cruelty. Let us set emotionalism aside and use critical thinking to tackle the issue of unsupervised dogs. The owner which allows his or her dog to wander unattended subjects the animal to traffic, poison, dangerous wildlife, other larger, more aggressive dogs and numerous other threats to its safety. People often think that everyone loves their dog; and that’s just not true. Many dogs are real nuisances, destroying delicate plants, chasing or killing livestock or cats. I can attest that many a dog who the owner swore had been stolen had, instead, been a victim of a fed-up neighbor applying the Rule of Three S’s; shoot, shovel and shut up.
In Olympia and Thurston county, the mutilation of thirteen cats and one dog have caused the police and sheriff’s office to form a task force to hunt for the human responsible. Humans who torture animals often go on to human victims. Since all the dead dogs in Yakima show signs of human cruelty, I respectfully suggest that all concerned citizens put their efforts toward protecting their pets and finding the human(s) responsible, and let the “bait dog” myth die once and for all.