Punish the Deed
Not the breed
BY KYLIE BELACHAIKOVSKY
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three others were charged July 17 with competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting and conducting the enterprise across state lines. The full indictment is sickeningly graphic. Vick allegedly bred litters of dogs to to be killers. Dogs that didn’t “perform” to his liking were shot, drowned, hanged, beaten to death or electrocuted.
Of course, many people feel the expected sympathy for Vick’s dogs — reportedly tortured, mutilated and cruelly executed. Yet for every person horrified by the barbaric nature of this crime, another considers it a cultural norm. How could fellow NFL player Clinton Portia casually defend Vick, saying, “I don’t know if he was fighting dogs or not, but it’s his property; it’s his dogs. If that’s what he wants to do, do it … it can’t be too bad of a crime” (WAVY-TV, Virginia).
Let’s get real: Vick may get six years in the slammer. Working daily in animal welfare, I really care about the less tangible results of this indictment. How far will the shock waves reverberate? In light of Vick’s popularity, will unorganized dog fighting amongst wannabe hoodlums increase? Will the pit bull become even more of a nasty status symbol and even less of a breathing, sentient being? Will my society see pit bulls as even more of an anomalous monster, so different from our other pet dogs? And ultimately, as thousands more pit bull dogs die in fighting rings and animal shelters, will my fellow dog lovers turn a blind eye because it is “just a pit bull”?
There is already an enormous population of homeless, cast-off pit bulls right here in Lane County. Currently being bred in enormous numbers, many of these dogs are carelessly kept and abandoned without a thought. The worst owners breed their dogs for a dirty profit, not caring about the cruel life in store for the puppies. Even more will buy a puppy but don’t bother to train it. Their mishandled pit bulls end up in overcrowded shelters due to avoidable “behavior problems.”
Some well-meaning folks love their friendly pit bulls but can’t afford to have them neutered; they are distraught when they discover that the resulting puppies cannot find good homes. Look in today’s newspaper and you will surely find one classified advertisement after another trying to unload pit bull puppies into a saturated market. If there aren’t enough caring homes (and there are not), what happens to the rest? What kind of short, traumatic lives will they lead? How cruel, how painful, how terrifying will their deaths be?
And yet, I refuse to just shake my head sadly at the plight of Lane County’s pit bulls. We are a community that professes to care; something can be done! Illegal activities are nearly impossible to eradicate, and dog fighting is no exception. But we can join together to radically reduce the huge number of “disposable” pit bulls being born every day. If you love pit bulls or if you hate pit bulls, you want the same thing: far fewer of them being carelessly born. As a community, we need to make no-cost spay/neuter service incentives available to all pit bull owners. As individuals, we need to examine in our own hearts whether we are contributing to pet overpopulation, or actively helping to eradicate it. Our culture needs to embrace thoughtful care-taking rather than profitable exploitation.
If you cannot afford to have your pets spayed or neutered, please seek assistance from Lane County Animal Services, Greenhill Humane Society or the city of Eugene. If you can, please consider making a donation to pay for the neuter of a fertile pit bull dog through Luv-a-Bull, the area’s only dedicated pit bull rescue/education resource. Luv-a-Bull is desperately trying to eliminate the masses of abused and abandoned pit bulls in our community; please make this goal a reality with your support. Donations made to the nonprofit Luv-a-Bull can work immediately to halt the proliferation of unwanted pit bulls, and the insidious cruelty and exploitation from which they suffer.
To make donations to a local spay/neuter fund, please contact:
Luv-a-Bull at 345-7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Lane County Animal Services at 682-3647 or www.lanecounty.org/animalsor Greenhill Humane Society at 689-1503 or www.green-hill.orgor City of Eugene Spay/Neuter Clinic at 682-3643.
Kylie Belachaikovsky has been active in the animal welfare community since moving to Eugene in 2001. She is currently an animal welfare officer for Lane County, and volunteers for numerous groups that promote affordable spay/neuter services.