In a recent Verizon commercial, a man sneaks into a junkyard to retrieve his cell phone. Two pit bulls, their ears cut in a "fighting crop," bark at the man and lunge against their heavy chains to attack him, baring their teeth and snapping their jaws just inches from the man's face. Pit bulls are the most abused dogs in dogdom, and commercials like this don't help. Because of their "macho" image and impressive strength, pit bulls are the breed of choice for thugs, gangs, drug dealers and dogfighters.
These people aren't looking to bond with "man's best friend;" they seek out the dogs to use as a living weapon to look "tough," intimidate others, guard their property or make them money by winning fights. Every week, PETA's Cruelty Investigations Department handles cases involving pit bulls who have been kept outside on chains that weigh half their bodyweight, given only a plastic barrel (or nothing at all) for shelter from the freezing cold, left to suffer life-threatening injuries from dogfights and infections that swell to the size of grapefruits, and fed barely enough to survive.
One pit bull we rescued, named Music, looked like a bag of bones, shivering, severely dehydrated, covered with scars and scabs, his ears shredded from fights and driven mad from living on a chain his entire life.
In another case, our staffers found a chained pit bull who appeared dead--motionless, emaciated and being eaten by maggots--but was still barely clinging to life, chained next to another pit bull who was suffering from a prolapsed vagina.
In December 2006, one of PETA's cruelty caseworkers, investigating a call from a concerned Bertie County, North Carolina, citizen, found three pit bulls--each tethered to a doghouse--dead at the end of their heavy chains. The dogs looked like skeletons draped with skin. They had no food, no way to keep warm in the freezing cold, and no chance of survival. It had taken weeks for them to die.
The dogs' owner claimed that he was in the business of breeding and selling pit bulls and showed no remorse for these dogs' agonizing deaths, casually telling our caseworker that "dogs die every day."
As Michael Vick's dogfighting case showed, pit bulls who are used for dogfighting are routinely chained to buried car axles, left with untreated injuries, forced to run on treadmills and, in the case of females, strapped down with their heads immobilized in a "rape stand" while male dogs mount them. They are forced to tear each other to shreds in the ring, and dogs that aren't aggressive enough are often killed by being electrocuted, drowned or shot. Such abuse--especially chaining--can make even a friendly dog more likely to bite.
Chained dogs are nearly three times as likely to attack as dogs who are not tethered, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. Another study found that more than a fourth of fatal dog attacks are by chained dogs. According to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, intensive confinement and lack of socialization can cause dogs to become frustrated and overly protective of their little patch of ground, turning them into fear biters.
Dogs are fight-or-flight animals, and chaining them leaves them with only one option--fight. When pit bulls, with their massive jaw strength and tenacity, choose the "fight" option, the results are often tragic.
On July 22, 3-year-old Tony Evans Jr. of Jackson, Mississippi, died after wandering too close to a chained pit bull named Blue Eyes, who, according to his owner, was not a "pet" and was kept constantly chained as a "guard dog." Blue Eyes clamped down on Tony's neck and upper torso, killing him, before dragging the boy's dead body into his doghouse.
We can all do something to help stop this cycle of abuse and tragedy. Speak out against negative depictions of pit bulls in advertisements, music videos and other media that perpetuate the image of pit bulls as fighting machines. Support spay/neuter laws, which help prevent more pit bulls from being born only to end up in the hands of people who are going to exploit them. And work to ban the cruel, dangerous practice of chaining dogs in your community.
Officials in California, Texas, Connecticut and the more than 115 local jurisdictions around the country that have restricted or banned chaining report a lower number of dog bites and fewer cruelty cases since these laws passed. Together, we can bring about the day when pit bulls are treated with the respect and compassion that they deserve.
Daphna Nachminovitch is the vice president of PETA's Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.HelpingAnimals.com.