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Pit bulls: Trials and tribulations

We can’t remember a week — at least not since 2007, when federal authorities raided 1915 Moonlight Road — that pit bulls have grabbed so many headlines … without even biting anyone.

Here in Baltimore, the week began with a pit bull parade, sponsored by B-More Dog and designed to improve the image and shatter the misconceptions about the breed — such as the one that they are innately inclined to inflict violence.

Those who ran into the pack of four-legged goodwill ambassadors at the Inner Harbor Sunday got a chance to see beyond the myths.

The very next day, a mistrial was declared in the case against twin brothers in Baltimore accused of setting a pit bull on fire in the summer of 2009. Phoenix, as the dog was dubbed, died five days later. The police investigation that followed, testimony at the trial indicated, was something less than thorough — likely, I think it’s safe to say, because the murder victim was a dog, and, in particular, a pit bull.

Jurors were unable to reach a decision, and a new trial is a possibility, but as of now, it appears the fatal burning of Phoenix will go unpunished. Despite that, she leaves a legacy.

“We waited almost two years for justice for Phoenix and though justice was not met for her, she became the change agent and public figure for animal abuse,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). “Thousands of people offered their support on her behalf. Because of her, a Mayor’s Commission on Animal Abuse has been formed and the seriousness of animal abuse has been elevated to a national level.”

No dog, I will go out on a limb and educatedly guess, is more often the victim of abuse and neglect than the pit bull type — just as they are the most often maligned. Society, rather than simply label them as aggressive, and ban and muzzle them,  needs to come to terms with the fact that, in those instances when they are violent, our fellow humans are responsible for it, training them to fight, attempting to breed for viciousness, and trying to turn their natural born tenacity into something mean and macho.

Which brings us, once again, to Bad Newz Kennels.

Down in Dallas, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs confronted the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and offered him an opportunity to meet Mel, a shy and fearful pit bull who was apparently used as a bait dog at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

The convicted dogfighting ring operator — in Dallas to receive the key to the city — declined, and his entourage shoved Mel’s new owner, local radio personality Richard Hunter, who captured the whole episode on his shaky camera, out of the way.

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Vick’s former estate on Moonlight Road, the Surry, Virginia, headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, which has sat empty for three years, may be getting a new owner — Dog Deserves Better, a Pennsylvania-based dog rescue and advocacy group.

They hope to turn the former Vick mansion — where 51 dogs were seized by authorities and eight more were found dead and buried on the grounds — into a training and rehabilitation center for rescued dogs.

As usual, bringing up Michael Vick brings on lots of comments, on this blog and others, from his supporters — those who say “give it a rest,” those who say “he served his time,” those who say he’s a different person now who should be permitted to move beyond his besmirched reputation.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering when pit bulls — given they are regularly accused and punished without any trials, given that any violence they display has been instilled into them by humans, given that their bad reputation is mostly undeserved — will be afforded that same opportunity.

As a breed, they’ve done their time.

(Photo by Tim Quinn)


Comment from Meredith
Time February 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Nicely put, John. I read and was shocked by the comments posted after your Richard Hunt post. I was really surprised that people reading your blog, I’d imagine most of them like us, living a dog-centered life, were ready to forgive and forget.

Comment from baltimoregal
Time February 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thank you John! We’d love to see you at our next walk in March…

Comment from baltimoregal
Time February 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

And actually I didn’t take the photo! That prize goes to dedicated BARCS volunteer Tim Quinn.

Comment from Susan
Time February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I just lost my Stormy, who was most likely part pit bull terrier. She had been abused terribly her the first year of her life. She never fully learned to trust everyone. But she was extremely loving to those she did trust. I have seen these poor animals abused and abandoned right in my neighborhood and it sickens me.

Comment from CeliaSue Hecht
Time February 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm

great post, thank you !

might wanna listen to this interview of Richard Hunter, the dog owner of Mel, http://www.1560thegame.com/media/?p=2242

Comment from bmore pug mom
Time February 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thanks so much for continuing to be a champion for this breed John. Your ability to present the facts about the breed without getting caught up in the extremism is so valuable. Keep it coming please!!!!! I may be a pug mom, but I am a bully lover without a doubt.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time February 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm

They look just great, stepping out in the nice sunshine. And their humans look good, too. I feel certain these great dogs made a great impression and won over lots of friends for their cause. As you think of it, every dog in that picture probably has a story to tell–and it’s probably not a good story. (Actually, I know a couple of these dogs and their people.) But each has found a wonderful home, and each is leading a good life. Whether we can adopt one or not, I wish every dog lover could become a friend and advocate of the pit bulls. They deserve it.

Comment from Starla
Time February 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Thank You , John, for sticking up for the Underdogs! I look forward to reading your blog posts daily & of course, getting to see pics of the very handsome & well traveled Ace! 🙂

Comment from Anouk
Time February 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thank you John,
Vick’s brutal conduct was sustained, deliberate and ongoing. Just because his behaviour was against dogs rather than humans apparently means that he deserves a second chance. Not to me. To me, a man who takes pleasure in torturing and killing innocent creatures is a psychopath.
Richard Hunter is a hero and Mel is a hero.

Comment from selwyn marock
Time February 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Am not a Vick Fan and do Abhor Dog-Fighting,but what makes a Scumbag like Mayor Hinklehooper of Denver better than Vick,he has MURDERED many more 1000’s of Family-Pets and he gets rewarded with the keys of the Governor’s Mansion of Colorada,it’s Bloody Sick.

Comment from brianna
Time February 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm

i had a blue pitt named kendal she was only 1 year. we had 2 other dogs. she fighted with them once in a while but over all she was the best dog ever. one night it went to far. she and one of my other dogs got in a huge fight. we had to give her back. the next day my mom called to check on her at the spca. they said she was euthinized. i now hate the soca for everything they did to my little baby. she was a small pitt too.