The Lansing, Michigan Dog Fighting Case
On August 25ᵗʰ the fate of 16 dogs who were seized from a professional dog fighting network in Lansing, Michigan, will be decided in court. In total, 53 dogs were seized from the network. The prosecutor petitioned the court on 7/21/2017 to euthanize 16 of these victims. News reports say it’s expected there will be a petition to ultimately kill all of them. Within about a week of this petition to euthanize, two Lansing area residents along with a NY friend, started a Facebook group in order to campaign for the judge to deny the prosecutor’s petition to euthanize. Rather, the group would like the dogs to be individually evaluated by a canine behavioral specialist, and as appropriate, rehabbed and re-homed.
In under 3 weeks, the organizers have gathered nearly 14,000 signatures on a petition urging the judge to deny the prosecutor’s petition to euthanize. (8/22/2017 Update: less than 48 hours after I first wrote this, there are over 84,000 signatures – the petition went viral around the time R&B artist Avery Storm tweeted it to his 20k followers and they started re-tweeting it.) The Facebook group advocating for the dogs has garnered over 1,700 members (8/22/2017 Update: almost 2,000 members and climbing), and they’ve managed to get supporters to bring significant amounts of supplies to Ingham county animal control, where 43 of the dogs are being cared for. They’ve also gathered dozens of dog fighting survivor stories to present to the judge. If they could do this in under 3 weeks, imagine what they could do in 3 months, as the public support for their campaign continues to grow.
What Happened to Dogs in Previous Dog Fighting Cases?
You may be asking yourself, “Why kill the victims of abuse?” About a decade ago it was standard protocol across the U.S. to euthanize dogs seized from dog fighting networks due to the perception that they were inherently dangerous. But the Vick case changed all that. NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, had a brutal dog fighting operation that was busted in 2007. Among other atrocities, it’s reported that Vick and one of his cohorts swung one of the smaller dogs above their heads like a jump rope and slammed him to the ground repeatedly till he died. Vick killed several other dogs in gruesome ways according to court documents. Torture and killing are frequently done by dog fighters, as you can see from the survivor stories below as well as the large number of dog fighting survivor stories online from all over the country.
The Vick Case
“The Vick case triggered behavior experts to take a harder look,” writes the ASPCA. There was a lot of publicity surrounding the Vick case and an outpouring of public sympathy for the dogs. The judge in that case was flooded with letters and phone calls urging him to allow the dogs to be individually evaluated rather than killed en masse as was typically done at the time. [Note: please see sidebar regarding a different approach for the Lansing case.] Consequently, the judge assigned law professor Rebecca Huss as “special master” on the case wherein Huss then oversaw the fate of the dogs. Huss had the dogs individually evaluated and 48 were consequently sent to rescue organizations. (Another 3 did not survive. Only one was euthanized due to behavioral issues).
The vast majority of the dogs were rehabbed and adopted into loving homes. A significant number have thrived beyond all expectations—some becoming therapy and service dogs, others social media stars and the focus of books and documentaries. One of my favorites is Jonny Justice who went on to become a therapy dog for terminally ill children…and was named the ASPCA’s 2014 Dog of the Year. There is even a Gund stuffed toy of Jonny!
Here is a trailer for the compelling and deeply moving documentary film about the journey of some of these former Vick “fighting” dogs, including Jonny, called “The Champions.” The documentary is available on Netflix, Amazon and on The Champions website.
Dog fighting is now a felony in all 50 states, in part due to the attention brought by the Vick case. And since the Vick case, an increasing number of municipalities around the country are having dog fighting victims individually evaluated, and as a result, many of the dogs are sent to rescues and foster homes where they are given a chance to recover from the extreme abuse they suffered at the hands of dog fighters. They are trained, socialized and treated with compassion until they are ready for their adoptive families to come and take them to the next phase of their lives—life with a loving family and home of their own.
It needs to be emphasized that these dogs are victims—victims of extreme abuse, torture and neglect. They are recognized as such both legally and socially including by the National Animal Control Association, which writes, in regards to dogs seized from fight busts “It is important for animal care and control agencies to recognize these animals as victims of a crime.” It is my opinion that, like any victims of abuse, the Lansing dogs deserve to be treated with compassion. To even consider killing (euthanizing) these victims en masse without any expert evaluation as to their potential for adoptability is compounding this tragedy to epic proportions. How can this even be an option today, when we now know that a significant percentage of dogs in the exact same circumstances as the Lansing dogs, have been successfully rehabbed and re-homed? Who can say they should die without a chance? How many of these dogs might go on to become beloved companions or even therapy and service dogs like so many dog fighting victims before them?
Many Survivors of Dog Fighting Thrive in Their New Homes
There are hundreds or more examples of rescued pit bull-type dogs from fighting situations around the country that have shown us that a significant number of these dogs are not dangerous, and like every other dog, need a kind and loving home—not to be terrorized and abused by dog fighters and then rescued only to be killed by the municipalities that are entrusted to protect them. Many of these survivors even go on to become therapy dogs and service dogs.
Here are stories about some of the dogs from the second largest fighting ring in US history. And here’s a FB page for the owners of these survivors. They are called “The 367” as that was the number of dogs seized on the first day. Eventually, 486 were seized from a large fighting network spanning several states, but they are still referred to as The 367. Many are now beloved family pets and some are even therapy dogs after having had a chance at recovering from the terrible abuse of dog fighting. And just recently a case of 18 dog fighting survivors in Ontario, Canada were finally allowed to go into rescue after a 2-year court battle to save them. Unfortunately, the province of Ontario has Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) which discriminates against dogs based on how they look. BSL has proven to be both ineffective and, well, deadly for many innocent family dogs in several municipalities where it’s been enacted. It’s untenable that these types of laws still exist anywhere in the world in 2017. Thankfully, many municipalities around the world have been repealing their BSL laws in favor of breed-neutral laws. (You can read more about BSL here on the blog.) For the 18 dog fighting victims in Ontario, BSL made it harder to win the case to get them individually evaluated and brought into rescue where they could be rehabbed and eventually, adopted. Nonetheless, the advocates for these victims succeeded and the dogs are now with rescue groups.
There are many more dog fighting survivors all over the country who we never hear about because most of them aren’t in the media. At the end of this post are five stories of such survivors who are now thriving in their adoptive homes.
Many Organizations Now Have a Policy that Dogs from Fight Busts Should be Individually Evaluated for Adoptability
It is becoming standard practice nationwide for dog fighting victims to be individually evaluated by a behavioral specialist rather than being automatically euthanized en masse. Even the National Animal Control Association guidelines call for dogs to be individually assessed and moved to rescue organizations as appropriate. Here are the policies and guidelines of several national organizations that deal with dog fighting survivors.
National Animal Control Association (NACA)
In 2009, several animal welfare organizations in conjunction with NACA formed a working group to address the question of what to do with the victims of dog fighting and other animal cruelty cases. NACA updated their guidelines for the treatment of fight-bust dogs in 2014. Among other guidelines, NACA writes that animal control agencies should:
“Provide or allow for a behavioral evaluation of each animal to determine appropriate disposition:”
The American Bar Association (ABA)
The ABA recommends evaluation of dogs seized in dog fighting cases and prompt transfer to rescue organizations or adoptive homes.
The American Bar Association cites another Michigan case similar to the Lansing case wherein the judge denies the prosecutor’s petition to euthanize.
From the American Bar’s website (p.5):
In reference to dogs seized from dog fighting busts as well as animals seized from other cruelty cases:
“This recommendation calls for a timely process to determine the disposition of the animals and for prompt transfer of the animals to an appropriate rescue organization or adoptive home. The judge has the ultimate disposition power. In a recent case U.S. District Judge David Lawson in Detroit granted the Humane Society of Kent County custody of eleven pit bulls seized in a dog-fighting bust, a ruling expected to make the animals eligible for adoption. The decision ended the Eastern District of Michigan’s U.S. Attorney’s Office bid to euthanize the dogs seized last summer after agents broke up a dog-fighting ring in eastern Michigan.18”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The ASPCA recommends that all dogs seized from fighting raids be assessed by professional behaviorists. They even have their own Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team that expertly evaluates dogs from fight busts and other animal cruelty cases.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
The HSUS also has a policy that dogs seized from fighting cases should be professionally evaluated for potential placement. See “A New Day for Fight-Bust Dogs” for more on how organizations around the country have changed their position on the fate of dog fighting victims since the Vick case.
Media Comments Miss the Mark
There are many in the media commenting on these dogs who appear to have little to no knowledge about the precedence set by the hundreds or even thousands of dog fighting survivors who went on to become beloved family pets, as well as therapy and service dogs. Many of whom are not only people-friendly but also dog-friendly. It should be made clear that it is not common for dog fighting survivors to be aggressive toward humans. These dogs would not be very useful to their owners if they were aggressive toward them, especially when their handlers are in the fighting pit with the dogs. On the whole, they tend to be non-aggressive toward humans. They are, rather, more often dog-aggressive. However, they are taught to be this way, and yet many are not dog-aggressive when they are rescued and given a chance to recover from the severe abuse of dog fighting. The dog-aggressive behavior they may have displayed when they were victims of the dog fighters often is no longer present after they’ve had a chance at rehab, training and socialization, as well as being adequately fed, their health issues addressed and being treated compassionately by human beings for the first time in their lives. This may not be the case for every one of them but we can see by the sheer numbers of survivors who are now thriving members of their family and society, that a significant number become well-adapted to households with other dogs, children and even cats. This is one reason it’s essential for the dogs to be individually evaluated—there is simply no basis for treating all dog fighting victims as vicious and dog-aggressive—there are FAR too many dog fighting victims who have proven otherwise.
The Lawsuit Myth
In some cases shelters are concerned that they might be legally liable if a dog they adopt out from a fight bust bites someone. This concern is addressed by animalsheltering.org:
“One of the main reasons shelters have often worried about placing dogs seized from fighting raids is because they fear getting sued should the animal end up biting someone. But according to Bonnie Lutz, a California-based lawyer who serves as general counsel for several large humane societies and SPCAs, while there’s no way to guarantee you won’t get sued over a bite, shelters don’t face any particular liability issues by adopting out dogs rescued from fighting operations.”
Lutz goes on to say she would be comfortable defending a case wherein the shelter had an evaluation by a proper behaviorist as to the dog’s temperament, then documented that assessment, and disclosed the results to potential adopters, as well as the fact that the dog came from a fight bust. ““It’s all about disclosure. It’s all about testing,” she says.” (“A New Day for Fight-Bust Dogs”)
Dog Fighting Survivor Stories
Here are the stories of 5 victims of dog fighting, who are now thriving with their new families—families that include other dogs and cats, children and babies. If these dogs could speak, I imagine they would say to the judge in the Lansing case “Please give our fellow victims a fair chance.”
Don’t they deserve it?
Tyson in California
Dog Fighting Survivor
Tyson’s mom, Lisa, writes:
“Meet Tyson, a former bait dog. Tyson was picked up in a seizure of several dogs by animal control, almost faceless and his body not in much better condition. He was in bad shape. He came into rescue and after 8 months his body healed up but his big ol’ heart was not. He was a fear pooper for about a year. When he would get scared he would poop. The hope was gone from his eyes for a long time. Then one day it was there. After 2 years of endless training Tyson is now a Good Will Ambassador—he goes to the schools and to the VA to help me teach others about the breed. He loves everyone and everything. He is confident in himself and other animals too. Needless to say he made us his family. He is now part of my pack.
So for anyone who says you can’t bring a dog back, let them know Tyson’s story.”
“Thank you so much for sharing his story. Every scar tells a story and for him, I’ll listen to them over and over.
And I will not stop till it ends.”
Lisa, California, USA
Lodi in Michigan
Dog Fighting Survivor
Lodi’s rescuer, Lisa, writes:
Lodi was found in a black trash bag by animal control…he had huge gashes from what looked like a machete. He was tossed out after he lost a fight. They tried to kill him but he was still breathing. 4 months at the vet and he was able to come home to us. He stayed with me for almost 2 years before he was adopted by Elizabeth. His teeth were ground down and his tongue sliced. He is a silly boy. Loves kids and creatures alike. Took a lot of work but he now has three human brothers who he loves – he is a family dog. Elizabeth has PTSD and Lodi helps her to stay calm. They needed each other.
Lisa, California, USA
Chance in New York
Dog Fighting Survivor
Chance’s mom, Taryn, writes:
Chance was seized from the second largest dogfighting bust in NYC. He grew up in a dogfighter’s yard, raised by a man who chained six week old puppies to barrels. He was raised without kindness or compassion, he grew up learning cruelty and pain from humans. After the legality of it all was finished and his life was spared, he had to learn how to relive it. Trainers and behaviorists worked long & hard with Chance. Some dogs can be raised by the book, socialized to everything, and still become dangerously aggressive. And others like Chance, can come from a background designed to create dog aggression, and their natural resilience and joy can win over. If you truly believe “it’s all how they’re raised,” no stray shelter dog or abused dog would be safe to place in a home. WE KNOW DIFFERENT. They are also some of the most forgiving. Most of us know that pit bulls, especially fighting-bred ones, are still some of the most abused dogs on this planet. Chance is 1 of the many dog’s that has been rehabilitated, and given a 2nd chance to live the happily ever after that he deserves.
Taryn, New York, USA
Luna in Texas
Dog Fighting Survivor
Luna’s mom, Tosha, writes:
This big black pit bull is Luna. The first picture is of her in a pound. She was seized with dozens of other pit bulls from a fighting and breeding ring. When she was seized she had just had 15 puppies. There’s no telling how many puppies she had had before that. She was skinny and heartworm positive. She has scars on both sides of neck and on front of her chest. She is also terrified and shakes if you raise your hands fast. She’s probably close to three years old. I was one of those people who always said that I didn’t trust pit bulls, but when I met her and she looked in my eyes, it was like everything else in the universe had disappeared. I brought her home immediately. Since she has been with me all she wants is hugs and kisses and time in my lap. She is gentle and loving with all children and people. I love her to the moon and back, and feel that she has saved me instead of me saving her. The sadness is, that when I take her places, people want to cross streets and look the other way because they are scared of what she looks like. What’s sad is that people have a misconception, just like I did.
I hope that in some way her story helps. I’m glad to share photos and videos and any other information just so these dogs in the Lansing case get a second chance.
Tosha, Texas USA
Bailey in Rhode Island
Bailey’s mom, Beth, writes:
I lived in Rhode Island for a while and began to notice a puppy running around. It took many attempts for him to finally trust me. Every day I would go outside and call for him. I brought him inside and after a few weeks I ended up keeping him. We call him Bailey. He was working to be my service dog. He was almost ready. When he was about 10 months old I let him go outside to potty (in a fenced in yard of course) and a man by the name of Jim drove right up and stole him right out of my yard! My sister came in screaming that Bailey was taken. No microchip no name tag, I knew I was gonna have a hard time finding him. Jim had a history of fighting dogs. My friend worked for Jim sometimes and he always had an eye for Bailey. For weeks I cried and searched for my beloved pet. I even searched for the man who took him. One year passed and I still looked for him and put fliers out. I posted on many sites and checked shelters. 2 years passed and I had no luck at this point…I had given up. He was gone. I cried myself to sleep some nights.
The 3rd year came around and I decided to try and look again hoping that he would appear somewhere…I posted on Facebook about my missing pup and got no replies for a few days. One morning I heard my phone ding and it was a reply with a photo. It was Bailey! A wonderful lady said she found him completely torn apart and thin and she was caring for him when she seen my post. The picture she had of him showed all the scars and how thin he was…so later that same day I picked him up.
Jim had the nerve to show up to my house a few weeks after I got Bailey back and I called the police. I didn’t want him on my property. To my surprise He was a wanted man! For what you may ask? Dog fighting. He confessed to police that he used my baby for bait and for a couple fights. How cruel of this person! He stole an innocent puppy who was bound to do great things and did the most awful thing possible. Tortured and beat a wonderful innocent dog… Bailey’s teeth were also cut or sawed down so he couldn’t do much damage. Jim went to prison. My dog suffered at the hands of man. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he didn’t trust people ever again…to this day Bailey absolutely loves people and loves going to the dog park. He absolutely loves kids and adores mine. They are best friends! My son is 10 months old.
He’s working on certification all over again and has had amazing progress. Dogs shouldn’t be made to fight for their lives, or be killed because they just wasn’t good enough, dogs should always have hugs and cuddle time and know that they are loved and safe.
Beth, Nebraska USA
Many of the Lansing dogs may be able to have a good life, just like their fellow dog fighting survivors here, with your help.
Please join the Facebook group working to save the Lansing dog fighting victims: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Savethelansingmipits/
And view the sidebar with a list of things you can do to help.
With Dog International, she aspires to play a role in building a vibrant international dog lovers’ community – a space for celebrating the lives and journeys of our beloved companions, a space for learning, and a space for helping dogs in need. 🙂
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