A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
Football star Michael Vick brought national attention to dog fighting. A discussion about the culture surrounding this type of animal cruelty, new advances in canine forensic science and the rehabilitation of abused dogs.
- Jim Gorant author of "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption."
- Dr. Randall (Randy) Lockwood Senior vice President, Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects for the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's undergoing a voice treatment and will be back later in the week. The arrest of football star Michael Vick three years ago brought national attention to the popular and savage sport of dog fighting. At the time, there were calls to euthanize the 51 Pit Bulls from Vick's kennels, but today most of them have found new lives as pets and therapy dogs. Joining me in the studio to talk about the dog fighting culture, advances in canine forensic science and the rehabilitation of abused dogs are Randall Lockwood of the ASPCA and Jim Gorant, he's author of "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Welcome to the Diane Rehm Show.
DR. RANDALLThank you.
MR. JIM GORANTThank you.
PAGEWe're gonna invite our listeners to join our conversation with their calls and comments. Later in the hour, you can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter or Facebook. Well, Jim Gorant, how did you become involved in the story of Michael Vick's dogs?
GORANTIt was really sort of by chance, you know, it was -- when the case broke, obviously, I work at Sports Illustrated, we followed it pretty closely, so I was aware of what was going on, but the idea of the dogs behind all this, it -- you know, I knew they had been sort of confiscated, but I never thought about them a whole lot after that. And it was maybe a year later, I just came across a small news item that mentioned that these dogs were being rehabilitated and some of them were being considered for adoption and, you know, that sort of little journalist button in your head goes off. You know, where have these dogs been for the last year and a half? And what do they mean by rehabilitated? And what do they mean by adopted? And it just seemed like a lot of interesting back story and a lot of interesting questions and I just started looking into it and the whole thing unfolded from there.
PAGEAnd when investigators found Michael Vick's dog fighting operation, Bad News Kennels, what did they find? What was the condition of the dogs?
GORANTWell, they were in reasonably good condition, I'm told. None of them had worms. They were skinny, but not malnourished necessarily, which from what I'm told, that is pretty normal with the dog fighting operations because they don't want the dogs to be unhealthy, but it's always to -- easier to put weight on a dog than take the weight off a dog, so they keep them skinny, but in a way, their almost running it like a business and the dogs are an investment, in a sense. So they generally keep them healthy, although there's a lot of variation in that. So there -- there was -- that was the overall condition, but there were some with fresh wounds. They were in, you know, not -- they-- most of them lived outdoors, so they were a little bit sort of wild and unkempt in that sense and, you know, just had no experiences with life other than these very limited things they got living in the woods.
PAGESo Randall Lockwood, was ASPCA's involvement in this particular case?
RANDALLWe were involved at a few different levels. Our senior forensic veterinarian, Dr. Melinda Murk, was actually part of the team that went in to execute a search warrant on Vick's property to exhume some of the dead dogs that were reportedly on the property. And our role in that was to try to come up with documentation of the allegations that had been made by some of the witnesses in the case of how dogs had been killed, the number of dogs that had been killed. So we were involved in that aspect of the case in terms of collecting the evidence. We then became involved in, more directly in working with the dogs at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office when the decision was made to attempt to do something other than euthanize the dogs.
RANDALLThat pretty much was the standard operating procedure, in any kind of law enforcement operation against dog fighters. It was assumed that these animals all had to be put down, that the dogs involved in dog fighting traditionally had been treated like contraband as if they were weapons or drugs that had been seized and then was destroyed. Fortunately, Mike Gill and others in the U.S. Attorney's Office were willing to entertain a different notion. And we were invited by the U.S. Attorney to come up with an evaluation team to look at each dog and that was the primary role for our team.
PAGEWell, Jim, was it controversial, the decision not to euthanize these dogs but take a look at them individually and figure out what to do?
GORANTI think it was more controversial, the idea that they were going to be euthanized. My understanding is it was really sort of what fueled the whole was a huge public outcry, you know, e-mails and letters and phone calls to the prosecutor's office asking, you know, is there anything that can be done, which to his credit, Mike Gill turned around and said, well, is there anything that can be done? And that's where the ASPCA came in.
PAGESo you came in to try to evaluate the Pit Bulls and see what did -- what you'd find. How do you go about doing that? How do you go about evaluating them?
RANDALLWell, we've been in the process of evaluating dogs for adoption and shelter dogs that've come from a variety of backgrounds for many, many years. We get dogs that come from puppy mills, from animal hording situations and occasionally from dog fight situations, so we do have some standard techniques that we've developed over the years, although this was kind of a new area for us. And when we first came to the scene, we had the belief that maybe many of the dogs may not be suitable. They might be highly dog aggressive. They might not be reasonable candidates, certainly for adoption or even retraining, rehabilitation, but we were certainly willing to give it a try. And we went into this situation, I think many of us had the number of about 10 percent in the back of our minds, so if we can save, you know, five or six of these dogs as spokes dogs, as symbols of what people do to dogs in the process of dog fighting, that would be worth the effort. And when certainly be important for those dogs and we were very surprised that the dogs that we found actually were in much better shape both physically and behaviorally than we had anticipated.
PAGESo you wouldn't argue that all the dogs in a situation like this can be saved. There are circumstances under which dogs who have been involved in dog fighting need to be euthanized.
RANDALLYeah, that -- we went in with the expectation that we would probably have to euthanize some. We were prepared for that eventuality. In reality, at least in the first wave, only one dog was euthanized for behavioral reasons. She could not be approached by anyone, even to do a routine medical examination. And another dog was euthanized for medical reasons, but in my perception of the dogs when we first arrived on the scene was they reminded me more of the dogs we see in animal hording situations. Their problem wasn't one of aggressiveness towards even other dogs and certainly not towards people, it was one of total lack of socialization. As Jim said, they've never had an opportunity to be dogs. They'd been living chained up in dirt. They rarely even walked on grass, let alone walking on tile or carpet. And they were very fearful with new situations.
PAGESo Jim, tell us these dogs now today. Tell us about some of them. Where are they?
GORANTWell, they're all over and it's a lot of different stories and that's sort of one of the things about what the ASPCA did and what Mike Gill sort of enabled them to do was this individual evaluation and that's, that's sort of one of the real revolutionary ideas here is that, you know, instead of looking at a pack of dogs or as fighting dogs, they became individuals. And so now, when you look back on it, it's hard to say that there's one storyline there's a lot of different storylines, but, you know, there are some of them that have gone on and they are working as therapy dogs now. They visit hospitals and they're -- do reading programs with kids. I think it's about 17 of them now are adopted and living in homes with families. And then, there are some -- there's a large group that are still at the sanctuary in Utah, Best Friends, where they're still working on their problems. And there are some that by court order will stay there for life. So it's a lot of different things and there's a wide range of outcomes, but they're all pretty much better than what the alternative was.
PAGEAnd so how do you go about rehabilitating a dog who's been trained to fight, has not been socialized. What do you do?
RANDALLA lot of it is just real patience, giving them a slow introduction to the real world. First, living in a situation that approximates a normal life for a dog as closely as possible, slowly being introduced to a variety of people, a variety of other dogs. Giving them -- these dogs are athletes, first and foremost, too, and part of it is they need physical exercise, they need that outlet. They can get bored, they can get fat and lazy. My experience in working with fighting dogs is they might go one way or the other that they just kind of chow down and pork out or they go bonkers trying to find exercise for themselves. So again, it is very important to look at each one as an individual. Figure out what they want, what is making them uncomfortable and making them just more relaxed in human interaction.
PAGEYou know, you're gonna -- we've already gotten some e-mails from people who have views on Michael Vick's treatment by the courts after these dogs were found. Jim Gorant, do you think what happened to him was justice? Are you comfortable with the consequences for him of this dog fighting operation?
GORANTI am. You know, I'm sort of outside that process that it's hard for me to have an opinion. You know, I've done a little bit of poking around on that. I've seen people seem to have get – have gotten a lot more time, people have gotten a lot less time. I know for the particular charges that he was charged with, if you go by the federal guidelines, he would have received no jail time, would have been the recommendation. So the prosecutors pushed very hard to make sure he did actually serve jail time. Hasn't been a lot -- talked about very much, but he did also have to file for bankruptcy. He has a huge amount of debt right now. Some people like to talk about how he's cashing in, but he's not really cashing in, his creditors are cashing in. So, you know, I don't know, I don't know right or wrong, it's hard to say. I know this is where we are and hopefully we can make something positive out of if going forward.
PAGERandall Lockwood, what do you think? Do you think justice was done?
RANDALLI think certainly at the federal level, as Jim said, the sentences were actually beyond the general guidelines. My personal disappointment was that he was not held accountable for the animal cruelty charges at the state level. Those are charges that were dropped as part of the negotiations. And because of our involvement, we could document the dogs had, in fact, been beaten, dogs had been hung. We felt we were in a position to help the state document those animal cruelty charges and I was disappointed by that, but I understand that the sentiment was that he had done his time and he paid a pretty heavy price.
PAGEHe paid a million dollars in restitution for treatment of these dogs. Is that right?
GORANTThat's correct. Yes.
PAGEAnd how is that money used?
RANDALLThat money was allocated by a fairly complicated formula, depending on whether these animals were going to go to long term sanctuary at Best Friends or elsewhere, whether it was for temporary care. So each dog kind of came with a dowry that was used for their long term care for life.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850 or you can send us an e-mail to email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm and I'm joined this hour in the studio by Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He formerly was vice president at The Human Society of the United States and Jim Gorant, he's senior editor at Sports Illustrated. He's the author of "Fanatic: Ten Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die." More recently, he's the author of "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Well, let's go to the phones and take some calls, comments and questions from our listeners. We'll go to Indianapolis and talk to Scott. Scott, thank you for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SCOTTHi. I appreciate you taking my call. My name's -- I'm a physician and I've been active in the issue of animal rights and I think this is an issue in which I think the animal community has let down animals more than any I can think of. And by that, I mean people who are purporting to protect the bulls are the very people who are sort of perpetuating the misery that they're undergoing. And by that, I mean organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States oppose any kind of breed-specific legislation that would restrict breeding of Pit Bulls.
SCOTTAnd if one doesn't even argue about safety factors, if one simply looks at what's happening to the dogs themselves, there are so many Pit Bulls coming into pounds these days with nowhere for them to go. And they're simply being produced in numbers and euthanized in numbers that are unlike anything that's ever been experienced by any other kind of breed of dog. Yet people are adamant that, oh, my gosh, we're blaming the Pit Bull. And the Pit Bulls themselves don't care about breaches of the legislation. They want a nice home, they want to be treated well and they want not to be beaten. They don't care if other Pit Bulls are ever born.
SCOTTBut because people are refusing to restrict breeding of Pit Bulls, they're actually perpetuating future (word?) with no place for them to go and the only people they're really protecting are owners who have Pit Bulls now, which I'm sure are lovely and they enjoy very much, for protecting their ability to have more Pit Bulls, but doing nothing for the thousands that die in shelters every year. This is a, this is a true epidemic unlike anything that's happened before. And then unfortunately, it's the animal community that has sort of gotten their senses backwards and taken on logic that just doesn't make sense for the Pit Bull itself, but...
PAGEAll right Scott. Thank you so much for your comment. Let me ask Randall Lockwood. What about...
PAGE...breed-specific legislation that Scott's talking about. Now, this would prohibit -- curb the breeding of Pit Bulls.
RANDALLRight. And ASPCA, Humane Society of U.S., American Veterinary Medical Association and most other animal-related organizations have opposed this. I've been looking at dog-related public health problems for almost 30 years. And as Jim and I were talking about earlier today, really, the Pit Bull problem is a fairly recent phenomenon in the last 20 years, that originally we saw German Shepherd problems, Doberman problems, Rottweiler problems. So it is right now the appearance of being a breed-specific problem, but we really feel that the best solutions are generic, well-enforced, dangerous dog regulations.
RANDALLWe do recognize the special needs of Pit Bulls these days. Many organizations, including the ASPCA, do sponsor free or low-cost Pit Bull adoption events around the country. We do this the same in New York. There are other groups specifically working to promote responsible pet ownership, if you are choosing to do that. But frankly, it is the proliferation of dog fighting and street fighting that has led to that kind of macho image that unfortunately appeals to a large segment of the population.
PAGEWell, is Scott correct when he says that there are a lot of Pit Bulls being -- showing up at animal shelters? And as a result, a lot of them being euthanized because you can't find homes for them?
RANDALLThat's absolutely true that certainly, in shelters serving urban areas, Pit Bulls make up a large proportion of the animals coming in. And again, part of that, too, is the lack of resources that are being devoted to animal control, to spay/neuter programs in cities around the country, including D.C. and Baltimore. When budgets are cut, animal control is the first to be cut.
PAGEWell, Jim, what do you think. Do Pit Bulls deserve the reputation they have as being violent dogs, dangerous dogs?
GORANTI don't. From all the research I've done and for me, coming to this, like, as an average person, I was not in the animal welfare community at all and I was an outsider, basically and so, you know, learning all this was a great thing. I knew, you know, basically all the bad stories and nothing else. And once you scratch the surface, once you get past that initial sort of wall of the myth of the Pit Bull, you realize that, you know, they do have some traits, but they're not that different from other dogs. And if they're handled properly and managed properly and socialized properly, that there's not really, you know, an inherent problem with the Pit Bull. And, you know, getting into all that stuff, I mean, that was one of the great things about "The Lost Dogs," getting into that long form allowed you to sort of not only tell the story of these dogs, but tell sort of the history of the Pit Bull and get into some of those issues a little bit.
PAGEWell, let's talk to Stephanie. It sounds like she knows something about Pit Bulls. She's joining us from Atlantic City, N.J. Hi, Stephanie.
STEPHANIEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to make a comment that I'm a Pit Bull owner. I adopted my Pit Bull from the ASPCA locally and she's wonderful. And the reason that I adopted a Pit Bull is because I'd done a lot of research about different dog breeds. I wanted a medium-size or to a bigger dog and I had read that in the 1800s, Pit Bulls were actually referred to as a nanny dog. Helen Keller was photographed multiple times with her dogs because they're an eager-to-please breed. And I just was wondering if anybody could speak to that point. Thank you.
PAGEAll right, Stephanie. Thanks so much.
RANDALLCertainly beginning even in the turn of the century, that was the reputation of the Pit Bull. It was often a dog of choice by families that were immigrating out to the plains. Of course, the archetypal Pit Bull, Petey the Pit Bull, on "Our Gang," which when you watch those old things, you know, there's Petey chasing off the banker who wants to foreclose on the mortgage protecting the kids, but Petey also can be chasing cats and things like that. We have to realize that, again, all these dogs are individuals, that there are traits, but there were a lot of outstanding dogs there.
PAGESo they used to be nanny dogs and help Helen Keller, now they have a reputation for being participants in this bloodthirsty sport. What happened, Jim?
GORANTWell, there is a history of always sort of the bad breed Randy was talking about before. You know, if you look back over time, it goes from the German Shepherd, like, so it's the Doberman and it seems like there's a group of people out there who are attracted to whatever the sort of baddest dog on the block is and those are not the people who are going to raise them responsibly and not have good intentions with the dog and so sure enough, those are going to lead to incidents and then that's going to get a lot of headlines, so you're going to attract more bad owners. And it's a sort of cycle that feeds on itself and that's what's happened to the Pit Bull over the last 25 years.
PAGEWell, here's an e-mail from Jonathan who's writing us from D.C. He says, "How big is dog fighting as a business? Why is such a savage sport popular and is the sport growing in popularity or dwindling?"
RANDALLFirst of all, we have seen evidence of dog fighting in virtually every state. Estimates of the numbers are hard to really confirm because it's an underground activity. It's like saying how many people sell cocaine? But we certainly have seen there was a spike in the number of arrests after Vick. It's leveled off a bit. We have a few hundred people a year that I know are being arrested for it. That's the tip of the iceberg. The reasons for its popularity is it's a relatively cheap investment and potential for big return. The fights that were documented in the Vick case had purses of six, 10, $12,000 and higher numbers are not unusual. And I think a lot of the kind of street fighters get involved because they think, gee, I'll get a couple of Pit Bulls and make a million dollars. The reality is that, you know, very few people are making big money, but there's this impression. But it's powered by greed, it's powered by machismo, powered by this need for power and control and wanting, you know, street cred.
PAGEJason has sent us a message on Facebook. He writes, "Pit Bull dog fighting is still big in Baltimore City, big underground scene, very hush-hush. Talking about it could get you killed in the streets." How is it for law enforcement, Jim, when they try to go after dog fighting operations?
GORANTWell, I think it is hard and it's been hard for a long time because it's very, very underground, but one of the things about the Vick case, the positives that came out of it was that it sort of gave law enforcement the green light to pursue these things. They realized, you know, they could get convictions, they realized that these were popular with the public. They realized also when they busted a dog fight, they found other sorts of criminals there and so it was a very effective tool for fighting multiple types of crime, so it has really fueled an uptick in enforcement and, you know, research on these kind of things.
PAGEWhat other types of crimes can you target if you go after dog fighting?
GORANTWell, there's almost always drugs and guns and what they find is it's not just people using, it's drug dealers and gun traffickers and it's sort of the higher level of those types of crimes. And then there's also studies that show people who attend these things have -- they get desensitized to violence and there's a high rate of domestic abuse within people who attend and participate in dog fights, so you're eliminating some of that, too, by eliminating this sort of cause, in a sense.
PAGEAnd Randall, how about dog fighting. When did it come to America? Is it something a long been a part of our history or something pretty recent?
RANDALLIt's been around since at least Civil War times. The dog fighting really picked up in the 1830s in England when bull biting -- baiting and bear baiting were made illegal and the larger bull dogs that were used in those entertainments were bred with smaller dogs that were used in ratting to produce today's your Pit and Bull Terrier. It came to the States with immigrants in the 1860s to the turn of the century, but it -- so it has a history of almost 200 years.
PAGEIs dog fighting illegal everywhere in the United States?
RANDALLDog fighting is a felony in every state and at the federal level and that's just been in the last few years and part of the interest of the law enforcement has been this toughening of our laws and many more states now making even attending a dog fight a felony offense.
PAGEVictoria sent us a question via e-mail. She's writing us from Rochester, N.Y. She says, "I've heard nothing about the 10 or so dogs of other breeds that were also found in the Michael Vick case. Can you tell us what was the fate of those other dogs?"
GORANTMy understanding is that all those dogs have been adopted. There -- I think it was a pack of about eight or 10 hunting beagles, which belonged to an associate of Vick's and there were a few Presa Canarios and a few Rottweilers, I think. And all those dogs, I believe, have been adopted.
PAGEAnd here BJ in Kansas writes us, "I have been told that Pit Bulls have a brain that grows too large for their skull and this causes them to become vicious. Is there any truth to this?"
RANDALLNo. (laugh) that's the short answer. There's nothing really remarkable. They don't have a magic locking jaw. They are, again, a strong tenacious terrier that much of the behavior we see is the result of physical conditioning. It is their strength. There's a combination of training, conditioning and genetics that all contribute to this.
PAGEBJ writes, "This may just be another rumor to villainize the breed."
PAGESo perhaps that's the case. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Chris calling us from Charles Town, W.Va. Chris, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
CHRISHi. Thank you for having me on and for discussing such an important topic. My question is one that I think probably Dr. Lockwood can address and that is, you know, this is such a high-profile case and really got us all talking about the issue of dog fighting, but an important side issue and another aspect of this is what happens when young people get involved in this activity and what it really does to them as they move forward? How it gets them into the criminal element and really, more specifically, that sort of violence connection between animal abuse and future violence to humans. I wonder if you could address that?
PAGEAll right, Chris. Thanks very much for your call.
RANDALLSure. I have lectured many times for law enforcement agencies on dog fighting as kind of a gateway crime for young offenders, for juvenal offenders. I share your concern because often, you know, particularly young men are attracted to this, sometimes even out of the love and affection and respect for the dogs, but then they get sucked into this criminal element and, as you say, get desensitized to the pain and suffering that goes along with that. I think this is one of the main reasons why law enforcement needs to be taking dog fighting more seriously and also focusing on the harder issue of street fighting and juvenal offenders because for exactly these reasons.
GORANTOne of the things that came out in the Michael Vick case was that he saw his first dog fight at seven or eight years old and that, you know, he lived in a very poor neighborhood in Newport News and it was a regular event there and sure enough, not to excuse what he did, but to explain it to some degree, you know, he grew up around this. It was just an element where he lived.
PAGEDavid has written us a comment on Facebook. He writes, "I think it's sad that Michael Vick ruined so many animals' lives and now he's able to get back to normal -- get to his life as normal making money as a football star. It's deplorable how the country seems to slap people's hands when something like this happens. These dogs will remember for a long time what happened even if they can't voice it in words." Has Michael Vick talked about why he got involved in this? You talked about him being -- seeing this even as a child.
GORANTWell, I've not spoken to him personally. You know, I know he addressed somewhat on his reality TV show which I watched and he explained that that's how he sort of got drawn into it. You know, I don't know if there's a satisfying explanation or a terribly explicit and satisfying apology along the lines of, you know, to the dogs or about that aspect of it. There had been some general apologies and I haven't followed it that closely but I can't really speak for him.
PAGERandall Lockwood, do you have any insights into Michael Vick's own story?
RANDALLNot beyond what Jim has said. Again, he's offered, essentially, excuses and really has never, in my mind, from the things I've seen, apologized to the animals and people who care about them. He's basically paid lip service to letting down the kids, letting down his family, letting down the team, but he caused incredible pain and suffering for a lot of animals and I've never heard him specifically address from an empathetic standpoint any remorse for that.
PAGELet's go to Tulsa, Okla. and talk to Mark. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKHi. How are you this morning?
MARKGood. You know, I myself have adopted two Pit Bulls at separate times for different occasions. Both were because they were from homes where they were neglected or abused and I must say that I was very hesitant the first time and after a year-and-a-half with my now almost six-year-old dog, I was extremely happy to be of, oh, if you will, aid to the animal community the second time around. I will never own another breed of dog. And if I may briefly, I've spoken to trainers of Dobermans, Shepherds and Rottweilers and all three -- well, four individuals told me separately that their dogs of choice would never go through what a Pit Bull is trained to go through for fighting. The breed is loyal to a fault, even to the point of harming itself and harming others simply to please its master. It's a shame we've taken this positive aspect and made it negative but hopefully through your panel of guests and this show, we can see that they actually have truly, truly positive aspects that can be taken anyway, also the love of their owner.
PAGEAnd now, Mark, why do you say you'll never own another breed of dog?
MARKOh, the degree of loyalty and fun. I mean, I never understood what people meant when they said their dog would smile, but I see these four-legged creatures of fur smile at me. They're extremely affectionate. I have pictures of a 72-pound Pit Bull, my male, next to a five-month-old baby and I can't tell which one's more adorable because they're both playing for the camera's love, if you will. It's extremely amusing to hear people's ideas and thoughts on the breed. And...
PAGERight. Well, Mark, thanks so much for your call. We're glad that the Pit Bulls have turned out to be great pets for you. We're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk about the use of canine forensics and how that's developing now. So stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Randall Lockwood from the ASPCA and Jim Gorant, he's the author of the "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Randall Lockwood, I know that you've been involved in some new advancements to help track down breeders and trainers to help with investigations including a Canine CODIS database. What is that?
RANDALLThe Canine CODIS is a newly established program to actually collect DNA samples, as is done in human crime fighting, and we've done this in several hundred cases where you just take a cheek swab with -- just a little swab, get a little sample and save it and it's a joint project of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of California, Davis, the ASPCA, the Louisiana SPCA and Humane Society of Missouri. We used this technique last June or July, a year ago, in the largest dog fight raid in history where there were locations -- more than 20 locations in eight states that were all raided simultaneously. About 500 dogs were seized and brought to a location in the St. Louis area. The main purpose of the Canine CODIS is to not so much track dogs, but to track dog fighters, dog breeders. That one of the issues that came up in that case and has come in other case is they all claim they don't know each other, they've had nothing to do.
RANDALLAnd of course the transport of dogs across state lines for the purpose of fighting is a federal offense. It's a federal felony. So if you can make connections between breeders by showing their dogs are related -- closely related, you know, mother and son or whatever, that could be an important piece of evidence. Another thing is having a DNA profile of a specific individual might be helpful in identifying physical evidence, like you find blood stain on a dog fight pit and now you know this blood came from this dog who the defendant is saying he's never fought. We did find blood spatter at the scene of Michael Vick's place. It would've been nice to have that kind of information there to really link dogs. This is information that's only made available to law enforcement agencies.
PAGENow, why do you say that? Is this an issue?
RANDALLThis is -- I think there's a concern among a lot of the Pit Bull owners that somehow this is gonna be used, again, in areas where the dogs are illegal to prove that this is a Pit Bull. That's not the purpose of this. The purpose really is that if a law enforcement agency has DNA samples from one source, they can submit it to the Canine CODIS through University of California, Davis. If there's a match, if they say, gee, the dog that contributed this sample is related to a dog that was seized in this dog fight raid on this date, they put the two law enforcement agencies in touch with each other. It's not anything -- it's not like the DNA testing you do to determine what the parents of your dog were. This is purely for use by law enforcement agencies to make connections between suspected dog fighters or to link physical evidence to particular dogs.
GORANTI can just -- yeah, from the Pit Bull owner side, I've heard from a number of people and their concern is that that's the intent, but once this information is out there, as often happens, it gets used for other things. And they foresee a scenario in which someone tests their dog and realize, hey, your family pet that's been living happily in your house for five or six or 10 years or whatever it is, suddenly will realize, you know, half of the make of up of that dog comes from a fighting dog. This is a fighting dog, you know, it's no good. And these are people who have lived through a lot of these breed specific legislation fights and people have seen dogs taken away, dogs who have never had a problem and so they have a lot of anxiety about it and that's sort of where -- that's where the questions come from.
PAGELet's go to Donald. He's calling us from Raleigh, N.C. Donald, thank you for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONALDThank you for -- thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to -- I had a quick comment and then I had a question. My comment is that I'm a former -- or ex-dog fighter. I used to do it as a child. I was about nine years old when I started. I grew up in Annapolis, Md. and that's what the normal was. I mean, and, you know, I got out of it when I was about 15. I just knew it was not, you know, the right thing to do. I got tired of bringing my dog home. None of my dogs ever died, but I got tired of them being sick and having to, you know, nurse them back to health and just see the way that they look at you, you know, when they had this problem, like, oh, my gracious, I just -- I'm traumatized sort of a thing. So, you know, I got out of it. I realize it wasn't right, but, you know, I know a lady called in earlier about how people are affected with the fact of kids growing up and seeing this and then they become violent. Well, I live in Raleigh now. I'm a business owner. I'm a vice president of a small business, a very lucrative business. You know, I'm a college graduate, so you can get past these things. I really think it has to do with the guidance and your upbringing. You know, my dad was always in my corner. But my question is, you know...
PAGEDonald, before you go into your question, tell us what's the appeal, do you think, of dog fighting? 'Cause I have to say it kinda mystifies me why people find this, you know, a sporting thing to do.
DONALDWell, to me, it's no different than cock fighting, it's no different than horse racing, it's no different than dog racing. You know, to me you're a product of your environment, so the people are fighting dogs, selling drugs, you know, resorting to a life of crime. I never did the selling drugs. I never, you know, (unintelligible) I don't have a police record at all, but, you know, fighting dogs was a way to make money. You had a dog, you wanted to work your dog out. You wanted your dog to be the best dog in the neighborhood, the strongest dog. And these dogs are not people biters, they don't attack people, they just didn't like other dogs. And now, I even help people here in North Carolina that have Pit Bulls, you know, raise them, you know, train them, you know, of course without the intent of fighting them, but just to have them be good, obedient dogs.
DONALDAnd these are great dogs and they love people and they love to be around children, but at that point in time in life, I mean, if that's all you know, that's all you know. To me it's no different -- horse racing is animal cruelty to me. Anytime you take a animal out of its normal habitat like the zoo -- not the zoo, I'm sorry, but like going to the circus, I mean, you got elephants that's supposed to be grazing in a field, lions that are supposed to be grazing, eating zebras and all of these things and you make them do tricks. To me, that's animal cruelty, but that's not talked about.
DONALDYou know, I mean, dogs are like this because they're, like, people portray them as mean and they're really not. But, you know, the zoo, they don't get anything about it. You know, it's always -- and that was my -- part of my question, you know, why -- you know, you got these MNA, UFC fighting, people pummel each other, that's okay. You got the zoo that you go to, these animals are locked up. You got the circus that you go to, these animals are being trained outside of their normal habitat to do things. That's cruel. You spanking or smacking or whipping elephants to get them to do certain things, but we go and we bring our kids there and it's a great thing...
DONALD...you know, it's a fun time.
DONALDSo I get mixed up in what dog fighting is different, you know, besides the cruelty to the animals, to me, cruelty to animals is any sport or anything that we take as entertainment.
PAGEYeah, Donald, thank you so much for your call. Interesting to hear your perspective. Randall Lockwood, what would you say to Donald?
RANDALLFirst of all, it is great that he managed to get out of that lifestyle and I would hope that he would continue to be a mentor to other kids at risk. You know, this is what the attempt has been to use Michael Vick in this way. I'm not sure that he has been as effective in getting that message across. And I think your caller has a good opportunity to continue that kind of outreach. He does point out that we do all kinds of things that are potentially injurious to animals. He's mentioned a whole slew of issues that humane organizations and SPCAs around the country are dealing with. And certainly the analogy to human sport that involves a lot of pain and suffering, of course the difference for the dogs is they don't have a choice. You could say that the prize fighter coming up from the inner city doesn't have a choice, either. He feels that's his only chance out, but that is one of the big differences between human sport and the so called sport of dog fighting, the dogs don't have a choice.
PAGELet's go back to the phones, talk to Andrew. He's been holding on from Alexandria, Va. Andrew, thanks for holding on.
ANDREWHi, thank you for taking my call.
PAGEYes, go ahead.
ANDREWI'd like to first of all appreciate all the callers and appreciate the attention to the issue. I'm a dog lover myself. I have two adopted Pit Bulls who are amazing dogs, but -- so same point as your last caller, I love the dogs and hearing the talk about the dogs I appreciate, but to me, the most important issue here is the racial issue. I think the negative attention to Michael Vick highlights the racial problem in America. In other words, he sort of becomes the poster boy for animal cruelty, whereas just as many people of all races perpetuating animal cruelty as your caller -- or as one of your panelists pointed out, dog fighting came here from the British and there are plenty of people of all races in America doing this sport and yet Michael Vick is the poster boy for it. In the one hand, he did it to himself because -- on the other hand, though, the fact they choose to focus on him, hides their bias.
PAGEYeah, Andrew thanks for your call. You know, we've had a similar e-mail from David who has talked about claims that the prosecution of Michael Vick was race based. What do you think about this, Jim Gorant? Is there a racial component to his prosecution?
GORANTI don't believe so. You know, I know that's not where I'm coming from and having met the -- many of the investigators and prosecutors, I don't believe that's where they were coming from. You know, in America, you never wanna discount race as a factor in things. You don't know where people's hearts are, but in the end -- at the end of the day, I don't think he's being held up as a symbol of dog fighting or animal cruelty or he was prosecuted because of his race by any means. I mean, if it was someone else, he's being held up as a symbol of the face of dog fighting because he was the highest -- the most famous person who's been caught for it. And if it was a similar situation with, you know, a white professional football player, I think it would've been the same result. One of the other things about dog fighting that we didn't discuss yet was that it does cut across all sorts of demographic lines. It's -- you know, it's suburban, it's rural, it's urban, it's white, it's black. It does cut across all sorts of lines. And so I've never tried to portray this as a black or an urban problem. And I don't think if you look into it at all, anyone does.
PAGERandall, what do you think?
RANDALLYeah, historically the notion that some people have put out there that somehow this is -- this is part of black culture, that Michael Vick was just sucked into his culture. And ironically, about 20 years ago when I was testifying in a dog fighting case in southern Virginia, we found that case very interesting because one of the defendants was black and I had never been involved in a dog fight case with a black defendant before. This is not something that is -- traditionally been part of black culture and I agree with Jim, you know, if we'd had high profile white athletes, if Peyton Manning had been fighting dogs, I think the U.S. justice system would've treated him in a very similar way.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Bob in Worcester, Mass. Bob, hi.
BOBHi, how you doing?
BOBI'm just -- a thought struck me while I was listening to this discussion that most of the stories that I've read about Pit Bulls attacking and in some cases killing human beings, the animals have been pets and not rehabilitated fighters. So what does your panel have to say about the impact of this breed on -- you know, is this -- is there something there that we haven't talked about or, you know, you...
PAGEAll right, Bob. Thanks for your call. Jim?
GORANTWell, the truth is 99 percent of the time, when these -- when you hear about these dog attacks, there's a reason behind it. And that's often underreported, unfortunately. You hear about the dog attacks somebody, but you don't hear about the underlying factors.
PAGESo the underlying factor such as...
GORANTWell, you'll hear -- you know, you have to learn to read between the lines. They'll quote the neighbor saying like, oh, yeah, he gets under the fence once a week. Oh, yeah, he's always running around in the backyard unattended. And then, well, sure enough he got out and he attacked somebody, but those are signs of a dog that's not being properly cared for. It's being ignored, it's being left to its own devices. It's indicative of people who don't do a good job managing and training their dogs.
PAGEAre Pit Bulls -- when it comes to these cases, and there are cases where pets attack kids, you know, terrible cases that we've read about in the newspapers, are they disproportionality likely to be Pit Bulls involved in that, Randall?
RANDALLIn the last few years, that's been true, but that changes. And in fact, as I said, I used to investigate fatal dog attacks. I've investigated about 300 over the last 30 years or so and there was a spike in the late 1980s where Pit Bulls were the majority. That dropped in the '90s and Rottweilers came up. And Pit Bulls are coming back, but we're talking about very, very rare instances where, you know, perhaps a dozen to 20 fatal attacks. And as Jim had said, most of these are really the perfect storm of the wrong dog with the wrong treatment under the wrong circumstances being kept improperly. It's not the family pet that suddenly snaps and turns on someone. What we do see is a shift towards what is the dog of choice among those who are inclined to be irresponsible pet owners. And, you know, and that's more likely to be a Pit Bull these days, but that has changed over time.
PAGELet's take a call from Lisa. She's calling us from Washington, D.C. Hi, Lisa.
LISAOh, hi, thanks for taking my call. This is quite popular, it looks like, 'cause I was trying to get through for that entire show, so thanks a lot. I just wanted to share my perspective if possible. I've heard so many different perspectives and I just wanted to share that I noticed, you know, whenever there's shows on this topic, that -- the two main shelters in D.C. here that keep dogs and cats and other animals, one's on New York Avenue and one's on Georgia Avenue. I was a volunteer with the humane shelter on Georgia Avenue about a year and two months ago. I went through all the training and they have specific positions and I was what they call the dog walker. I went through every piece of thing and I was probably into it almost two months. I was, like, on my fourth shift where you go in and sign up and you sign out the dogs and you walk them...
LISA...and you follow the procedures...
LISA...and everything and nobody was aware of this and I noticed that whenever there are shows on this topic, again, I've never ever, ever...
PAGELisa, we're almost out of time. Did you have a...
PAGE...a comment or a question?
LISAYeah, I just wanted to share that I was a volunteer there and I was walking one of their Pit Bulls, Mona, to be very specific and later that day, when I was coming back from the shift and had done everything right, I was about two blocks from the shelter and I was attacked very viciously by the dog I was walking. Everything turned out well. Emergency service, I ended up fine, but it was a sad ending to the relationship with that place because they euthanized the dog the next day. Apparently, that's the procedure when any dog at the shelter bites somebody, but I was attacked in three different places. The fire department...
PAGEWow, Lisa, that just sounds terrible. We're so glad that that worked out all right, that you weren't badly hurt, but just as our time is almost up, Randall, is that the customary treatment when a dog at a shelter acts that way?
RANDALLProbably. We would hope with greater resources that most shelters could be evaluating the dogs. We have a variety of protocols for checking how dogs are around familiar people, strange people, familiar dogs, strange dogs and hopefully, you know, most shelters won't experience that kinda problem.
PAGEAll right. My thanks to Randall Lockwood and Jim Gorant for joining us this hour to talk about this issue. Thanks for being with us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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