By CAROLE BRODSKY
Updated: 07/30/2009 08:23:42 AM PDT
for The Daily Journal
On July 8, federal, state and local law enforcement officers conducted simultaneous raids in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma following more than one year of investigation of what appears to be the largest dog-fighting ring in the United States. Nearly 400 pit bulls were seized, and the Humane Society of Missouri was faced with the heartbreaking task of evaluating which dogs could be rehabilitated and which would be euthanized.
Jett and Zena, two young pit bulls who were the victims of what the Humane Society of Missouri calls "a heinous blood sport," are now safe in the hands of compassionate handlers and volunteers at the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County.
Leslie Dodds, a Humane Society volunteer, is specially trained to work specifically with pit bulls, and applauds the organization's board of directors for unanimously voting to accept Jett and Zena into their facility. "We worked with BAD RAP- Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, who initially received 10 dogs from the raid," explains Dodds. The animals have been with the Humane Society for about one week.
"Jett has evidence of chemical burns on his back, and Zena has fur loss from being chained out," says Dodds, who is working one-on-one with the dogs. She has taken behavior academy courses, trained at BAD RAP and also works at the County's Animal Care and Control facility in its pit crew program. She is also a private dog trainer.
Dodds notes that many lessons about pit bulls were learned from the high-profile arrest and conviction of Michael Vick. As fans wrestle with their consciences about whether the former NFL player should be given a second chance, Dodds echoes the exact sentiment about pit bulls. Prior to the Vick case, dogs snatched up from dog fighting operations were routinely euthanized. "Some good came out of his case," says Dodds. Now dogs are evaluated to determine their level of damage and the possibility for rehabilitation. Jett and Zena are prime candidates for a happy life with loving owners.
The dogs will be great family pets, according to Dodds. Jett and Zena met for the first time when they were introduced at the shelter, and now they are inseparable. "Boy, are they in love!" says Dodds. "Jett loves the ladies. He is a little player," she laughs.
The pair, who were carefully evaluated by several agencies before being sent to the Humane Society, are not showing signs of aggression toward dogs. Pit bulls raised for dog fighting rarely show aggression toward humans, as they are trained to be "dog reactive."
Dodds will work extensively with the dogs, as well as with their future owners, to ensure a successful adoption. "They will be ready to go in a couple of weeks. I'm going to require the new owners to come in and train with us. We'll probably set up a foster with intent to own' situation for a couple of months, just to be sure it's a good fit."
Dodds believes from her own experience that the public is led to believe all dogs involved in fights are vicious. "That's just not true. The media sensationalizes stories regarding pit bulls. If Chihuahuas get into a fight, we don't read about it." Pit bulls, which were once labeled "America's Dog," brought over by immigrants and owned by farmers and families alike, were a revered family pet, and despite their controversial reputation, Dodds believes that like parents, pet owners are accountable for the behavior of their dog. "Dogs are very easy to read. Their body language is very clear. All you have to do is look. Dog owners know what faults their dog has. If you know your dog has an issue, it's your responsibility to pay attention to it."
She concurs that aggressive dogs are nearly impossible to re-train, but says Zena and Jett are cute, loving animals. "They are fantastic, balanced little dogs. They look at me and say, here I am, I love everybody.'"
It is very likely that both dogs have been infected with heartworms, which will involve a costly treatment. The dogs will also be spayed and neutered before being adopted. "The Humane Society deserves support," says Dodds, adding that she has received incalculable benefits from being involved with the organization. "For the 100 percent I give, I get 1,000 percent back in return." She encourages people to donate to help support these dogs and the other animals in the program. "Heartworm treatment costs about $800," says Dodds. Volunteers are welcome, and trainings are held on a regular basis. "We need all kinds of people: dog walkers and people to help with our cats. If you have time and passion, other people will follow."
Dodds is grateful that the public opinion about pit bulls seems to be shifting. "Five hundred pit bulls may not be able to be adoptable, but 100 of them will be. If we don't step up and help, who will? They deserve our compassion."
Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County: 485-0123 or humanesocietyimc.org