Guest column: A close look at the “bully movement”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:
Guest column

A close look at the “bully movement”
by Phyllis M. Daugherty, director, Animal Issues Movement
The November/December 2007 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial “Adding
consideration to compassionate acts” was heartwrenching in its
truth. It is so hard for kind, caring humans to ignore or forget
the eyes of a hungry or suffering animal. But our need to “save” the
animal must be tempered with realistic consideration for the animal,
rather than be done to boost our own egos. This is especially true
when our personal resources or future access will be limited. Thanks
for your diplomatic handling of a sensitive topic.

Applying realistic consideration is particularly important in
dealing with dogs bred and trained to fight, who may be a threat to
other animals, and possibly to humans, for the rest of their
lives. But the greater question must be: Do innocent pets and
people deserve to become victims of a genetic propensity? As we
know, too often the quality of the lives of pit bull terriers in a
shelter far surpasses the quality of life they had in their prior
existence at the hands of an owner who bred or purchased them merely
for an average less-than-two-year stint of isolation, fighting,
suffering and reproducing. Certainly euthanasia done by a reputable
shelter is much kinder and gentler than being killed by a “guardian”
with the mentality of Michael Vick.
It is hard to predict whether physically infiltrating dog
fight organizations, as you discussed on page six of the November/
December 2007 edition, would actually provide much information of
long-term value, now that a large amount of dog fighters’
communication and boasting is done by Internet and can be fairly
easily accessed in chat rooms by those with Internet savvy.
As you stated, the driving force in this worldwide industry
is money from illegal drug and gun sales. Infiltration might help
identify certain fight locations, but will it really make an impact
on the overall industry in proportion to the danger the industry
presents and monetary investment that sustains it?
My perspective is that we can often identify dog fighters,
whose egos usually far surpass their intellect-but the awesome burden
of housing the dogs and getting convictions is too often
disproportionately large relative to the short length of jail
sentences that dog fighters usually receive, typically through
pleading guilty to lesser offenses.
If we systematically and seriously pursued cruelty charges in
response to anyone keeping pit bulls in inhumane conditions,
unlicensed, scarred, or injured, rather than waiting for the
occasional in-progress dog fight, could we not make a greater impact
on the industry at all levels and better benefit the dogs and the
I think you made one of the most important points ever
regarding the addiction to dog fighting when you wrote several years
ago that minority communities are as perplexed as anyone about how to
escape being terrorized and exploited by those who convince many of
their young men that “respect” comes from having the baddest dog in
the neighborhood, and that nothing to be gained through education
can match the income and power accessible to them through dog
Dog fighting today is often associated with minority youth,
but this is a relatively recent development. I have a large
collection of dog fighting books and magazines, the oldest of which
is undated but appears to be from the late 19th century. During the
1950s the publication Your Friend & Mine featured dog fighters and
chronicled dog fights, bite by bite and wound by wound, both in
words and photos. The “dogmen” were usually white males from 30 to
70 years of age, who stood around the pits watching fights in
business suits and ties. From descriptions in the books, most were
involved in normal business activities, and not connected–at least
not openly–with mobs or gangsters. Having the best “pit dog” still
“made the man,” as it does today in these barbaric and atavistic
circles, but the motivations and benefits have changed.
In the old magazines, women and children were only present
in cover photos to demonstrate the “family” aspect of the dogman’s
life and the gentle nature of the dogs when not in combat. The
colors of the dogs mattered little. They were prized for utility,
not looks. The goals were maintaining a bloodline of dogs who showed
published wins in the pit, and making money from gambling and
Most of these publications are gone. New “bullies”
magazines have hit the market, filled with cool cars and hot
women–for example, a provocatively-posed sex goddess with a pit
bull sitting between her long legs, staring from behind a high
chain-link fence, defying approach.
Doggie “bling” is now 3-inch-wide collars and harnesses with
simulated weaponry, such as bullet casings mounted between
inch-and-a-quarter spikes to keep the dog from being attacked,
stolen, stopped or grabbed by friends, foes, law enforcement, or
animal control. The musculature of these animals, who are various
mixtures of pit bull and English bull dog, is ominous.
Bully magazines advertise designer pit bulls–Gottiline,
Razor’s Edge, dogs with names like “Sir Crush-a-Lot,” and on and
on, averaging over 100 pounds while only 17 inches tall, with
28-inch heads, limbs “the size of a baseball bat,” and bred for
“family protection,” not friendliness.
Although dog fighting and “gameness” are only mentioned
occasionally, the articles are usually interviews that serve as ads
for breeders and encourage others to breed; and dogs are described
as potential “Champions” and “Grand Champions,” the same titles
garnered by winning staged fights. One major line sells pups for
$2,800 and a male stud for $38,000. Buyers are
encouraged–expected-to start their own lines. The magazines and
bully shows, held all over the U.S., provide a market driven by
appearance of the dog and the promise of stature, wealth and
prominence for those who own and breed these physically magnificent
animals. They shows also provide a place to win monetary prizes and
ribbons for conformation and weight pulling–a way to boost stud fees
and the price of offspring.
Pit bull fighters have been involved in political action
since the 1980s, when breed-specific legislation and outlawing the
breed became a possibility because of attacks on humans. Richard
Stratton, a San Diego school teacher viewed by many as the ultimate
guru of dog fighting, and author of a series of books that have
collectively become the bible on pit bulls, stated as early as 1981
in The Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier his concerns about the
breed being eliminated by making pit bulls illegal to possess. In
1997 The Pit Bull Gazette, published by the American Dog Breeders
Association, which according to Stratton “has not denounced pit
contests.” contained an article advising pit bull owners to organize
in their communities and hire attorneys to speak to legislative
groups in order to stop anything but generic, non-specific vicious
dog laws.
The new bully magazines openly encourage unity among all pit
bull and bully keepers in taking political action against mandatory
spay/neuter and breed-specific legislation of any kind. Bully
breeders have established their own national registry, the American
Bully Kennel Club, to control the industry and marketplace, and
basically bypass the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, and
American Dog Breeders Association, in itself “focused on serving the
needs of the American Pit Bull Terrier breeders,” according to the
ADBA web site. The professed goal of the American Bully Kennel Club
is to create a “bully nation.”
In conversation, bully advocates have stressed to me
establishing cooperative unity with those they perceive as allies,
including organized breeders, humane groups that oppose
breed-specific legislation anywhere, and the no-kill movement,
because it guarantees no interference with their “business.” As long
as shelters everywhere are packed, no one can seriously address pit
bull issues. These new lines of dogs of overwhelming mass and
strength would be hard to contain in many kennels, and lack the
traditional friendliness that has often endeared even some of the
most aggressive fighting dogs of the past to kennel workers.
Is the bully movement a front for dog fighting? Well, many of
the major bully breeders interviewed in the magazines have more than
their share of tattoos, piercings, jewels in their teeth, massive
breeding kennels on their properties with dogs kept separately, and
admissions of prior incarceration. I have not found any articles in
bully publications condemning dog fighting, nor any openly claiming
involvement. In one article, a breeder stated that while he doesn’t
personally fight his dogs, he understands that others “feel
differently.” Although only a few of the dogs pictured in the
magazines are scarred, one breeder mentioned that certain of his
dogs are “too game” to be kept on his premises, offering no
indication of where they go.
The main goal appears to be boosting numbers. Artificial
insemination kits can be purchased over the Internet, claiming to be
the semen of “Pit Bull/English Bull Dog,” or just “Pit Bull,” so
you can start your own line without leaving your house, if you have
a female. One t-shirt worn by a breeder in a “bully magazine” photo
reads, “You Can’t Stop Us All.”
Unfortunately, if thousands of bullies are bred
indiscriminately and merely for profit every year, shortly they may
be so pervasive that we won’t be able to stop any of them–nor
protect them.

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