Saturday, July 28, 2007

No Class Act

I won't get into how I feel about Michael Vick. I'm sure you can guess how I feel about Michael Vick. Instead, here's an excerpt of an article about dogfighting in Chicago that was written by Veronique Chesser, the woman who founded Pit Bull Rescue Central, a national Web site devoted to pit bull education and welfare. It's not about rich and famous professional athletes who torture and kill dogs, it's about dogfighting among the common folk like you and me.

Anyway, the article is long, but worth a read. Here is an excerpt:
When an animal welfare official visited a fourth-grade classroom on the West Side recently, he asked the kids, "Who has seen a dog fight?" Every hand shot up.

"I don't mean Molly slipping out of the yard," he said. Again, every hand shot up.

Yet only one Chicago police officer, Sgt. Steve Brownstein, works full-time on the problem. Since May 1999, Brownstein has seized 700 dogs and made 200 arrests. He has had bricks thrown at him, been picketed and has alienated a number of fellow officers. They call him "Dogman."

Dog fights happen every day in Chicago, and also frequently in the suburbs and Downstate. What started out as recreation and a gambling sport among gang members has spread to the larger community, with even young children raising stray dogs and fighting them in such numbers that officials call it "an epidemic."

"It's definitely getting worse," said Catherine Hedges, shelter supervisor of Chicago's Furry Friends Foundation. "I see abuse from dog fighting on an almost daily basis." Staging dog fights is a felony, but cases are difficult to prove. Dogs can't testify, and police officers, already overburdened by the relentless crush of crime against humans, do not put a high priority on trying to solve them.

Except Brownstein, a 46-year-old officer who wages a one-man crusade against the abuse of animals, particularly dogs that are forced to fight and kill each other.

Brownstein has seized 700 animals since May 1999, and made 200 arrests. Operating out of the public housing unit at 51st and Wentworth, he strolls through the projects, chatting with residents about rumors of dogfights and animals hidden in basements. Holding a flashlight, he crunches through the rubble of abandoned apartments, looking for chained dogs guarding drug stashes. He has seen a lot.

"They beat these animals," he said. "They feed them hot peppers. Gunpowder. Lock them in small closets. They do everything they can to make them vicious and mean." According to Brownstein, trainers starve dogs, then throw a piece of meat between them and have the dogs kill each other for it. They put heavy weights on the animals to build up their strength. When there is a dogfight, if the wounded dog doesn't die, it is thrown alive on a garbage dump or left in a vacant lot or apartment to die a slow death.

"The more fortunate dogs are the ones that die during the fight instead of afterwards," he said. "I've had dog fighters tell me that they're angry at a dog if it loses a fight. They want it to suffer, that's why they leave it locked in a closet to die a slow death from its injuries."

Dogfighting is a Class 4 felony that could, in theory, bring three years in prison. Even witnessing a dogfight is a misdemeanor. But felony dog-fighting prosecutions are rare: there have been just nine in Cook County in the past two years. "It's so common," said a police office in the Deering police district on the South Side. "You continually hear calls about dog fighting on the radio. But the attitude is, 'They're expendable; who cares?'"

"There have been less than a handful of prosecuted cases," said Dr. Gene Mueller, president of the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society and the former head of the city's Animal Care and Control Department. "Because animal welfare laws are contained within agricultural law - an archaic, infrequently used part of the code - the police officer on the street, the reviewing desk sergeant, the state's attorney at the district, don't recognize the criminal code."

It's not that the police are unsympathetic - many officers in inner-city neighborhoods have stories of grim encounters with dogs abused by gangs.

"Before I was a lieutenant, I worked on a tactical team and went on narcotics raids," said Lt. Nick Rotti of the Calumet district on the Far South Side. "We'd come across dogs ... it's heartbreaking to see the things that are done to them. I've actually seen the skeleton of a dog chained to a pole in a basement. The dog just starved to death."

"We've done community education, tried to help people see the relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence," said Ted O'Keefe, director of 311 City Services. "We've come to an awareness that this is a problem, not just in terms of animals, but a problem that can have an impact on our children as well."

"This is not something that exists solely in Steve Brownstein's head; I wish it was," said Mueller. "The terrible reality - I can tell you after being at Animal Control for many years - is this is a pervasive poison in almost all the wards in the city of Chicago. This is not a black issue, not a white issue, not a Hispanic issue. All types, all creeds, are fighting animals out there. They do it for gambling; they do it for fun. It is a terrible problem."
Full article

CNN: Nike Suspends Michael Vick's Contract Without Pay

Pit Bull Rescue Central

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