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Brave Dog Struggles for Life After Bloodsport Abuse
By Andy Pierce
Staff Writer, Chicago Skyline, July 29, 1999

At press time, a scarred, stout little knot of a dog remained in the holds of a North Side no-kill animal shelter and clinic. His activity — running, playing, rapid tail wagging and slobbery nuzzling of Staffers — suggested the animal was content to be there. But his story is a dark one, and the animal's woeful early life is one that authorities say is shared by a rapidly increasing number of dogs in many Chicago neighborhoods as well as nationwide.

Less than two years old, Titan (his shelter given name) was used in dog fights and wandered or was dumped near the former Olive nightclub, 1115 N. North Branch Street. Chicago police report that they find or pick up 5 to 15 dogs each week related to gang or dog fighting, about half of which are Pit Bull Terriers (Titan's breed). Dog fight stakes, police said, range from just-for-fun to multi-thousand dollar prizes. Basements, alleys, garages, sandlots, and abandoned houses and apartments are the city and suburb venues. Dog fighting, which is a Class 4 felony and carries a first-time sentence of one to three years, is prevalent in the Chicago area, police say, among biker and street-gang groups. Most dog fighters are teen gangbangers, police said. The fighters often transport dogs in the trunks of cars and dump dead, loser dogs — or torture the animals because they are angry at the loss of money or pride, according to police.

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It's doubtful Titan brought himself to the sidewalk where Catherine Hedges, a shelter supervisor on the Gold Coast, found him near death on the morning of May 16. Hedges said the malnourished dog had 50 bite wounds around his head and neck and had infected swelling so severe that she mistook him for a Pit Bull-Sharpei mix."I thought he would have to be put down," said Hedges, of the Furry Friends Foundation at Animal Medical Associates. "But even as sick as he was, his tail would thump — a low-energy thump." Although Hedges has volunteered with shelters for six years, been a supervisor for about two years, and an area resident for seven, she said she was unaware of the prevalence of dog fighting here until recently.

Titan has taught Hedges and the staffers many things. But his condition comes and goes these days, she and the vets report. One day he'll have energy and the next day he'll slow down and his gums will turn pale and cold — a sign of shock or approaching death. As he continues to be treated with medication, the vet's best guess is that Titan is suffering from immuneamediated hemalitic anemeia. That means his immune system is attacking his own body. The vets say Titan's got a 50/50 shot at making it as staffers exercise him and get him aquainted with life outside of the hellish world of dog fighting.

Titan's part of an adoption promotional flier states he "has been loving and friendly since he arrived, but because of his past, he needs a home with no kids, cats or other dogs, to be on the safe side. He gets sweeter and sweeter every day." Hedges added, "Now he knows how to play and be silly. He finally knows what it is like to be a dog." Asked why she named the black-and-white Pit Bull "Titan," Hedges said a staffer suggested "Desmond" but she held out for something stronger. "He's kind of like a god," she said. "He's a tough guy who has survived too much, been through too much, for a wimpy name."

Now healed to pockmarks and deep scars, the dog's wounds are the markings of a winning, money-making fighter. The wounds-upon-wounds in his head and neck areas indicate he was never in a submissive position. The wounds also confirm what local police are beginning to be more educated about — that dogfighting is alive and well in Chicago.
This education comes in the form of a new booklet on animal abuse and fighting that was reportedly circulated recently to all officers. "It is dramatically increasing everywhere," said Steve Brownstein, a Chicago Police Department sergeant." "It's become an accepted, ingrained part of gang culture." Overall, Brownstein attributes animal abuse and the popularity of dog fighting to the diminishing value and place of animals in households and a lack of discipline he sees in the raising of children. He said many children often see dogs only as security tools and as an element of the fights. The audiences at fights are all ages and races, male and female, he added. "Traditionally, the dog was part of the family," Brownstein said. "As families have broken down, dogs are just something to use. Children are not learning to relate to them or love them. And if this is how we treat animals, what does that say about how we'll treat each other?" Brownstein declined to make a guess where Titan may have been fought or housed. In turn he listed criminal animal-abuse and dog fighting reports from Evanston to Englewood and he said it is prevalent in any neighborhood where gangs are active. Asked if Cabrini-Green public housing, which is where Titan was found, may be used for dog-fighting, Brownstein said, "Sure. It could be happening in Cabrini as much as anywhere else."

(1995) Early one morning, Chicago Humane Organization "Tree House Foundation" received a call from Police. An officer had found a large male APBT apparently with a broken leg, limping down the street. The officer took the dog to a nearby animal lover who was known to take in strays. They lured the dog into one of the dog runs in his back yard.
The dog was obviously in severe pain and required immediate attention, so the officer called Tree House and they sent two investigators and a photographer to check out the situation. In addition to a softball sized joint on his leg, the dog had numerous scrapes and cuts on his body.

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The Humane organization took him to the vet and found that, in addition to the fresh injuries, the dog was also filled with old, healed bite wounds on his head — a very strong indication of a fighting dog. His adoption prognosis was not good, his leg was filled with fluid and the chances of anyone wanting to adopt a scarred up male pit bull who, most likely had been used as a fighting dog, were very slim. Nevertheless, the organization decided to give him a chance and arranged for him to go back to the original rescuer who had agreed to foster him until a home was found. He stayed there and recovered for a few months.
Rhonda Cook and her husband, Ted, from Illinois, went to see him one afternoon. She describes her feelings when she first saw "Scar" as a rush of emotions — pain, anger, disgust, compassion, and fear. "He was such a powerful dog, we didn't know what we might be getting ourselves into. He wasn't exactly the dog my husband had agreed to, but I was afraid if we didn't take him home, he would change his mind."

For the next three years, Ted and Rhonda watched Scar slowly come out of his shell helped by their show dog, Billy, who has helped him learn to be a normal dog. He is truly a gentle giant, his internal wounds were so deep, however, for a long time he wouldn't even wag his tail. Scar is still haunted by his past, certain clicking noises, umbrellas opening, windows sliding up, all seem to trigger frightening memories. Sometimes he'll wake up from his sleep and bolt from the room so it seems his past haunts his dreams.
Today, five years after Rhonda and Ted saw that frightened injured Pit Bull in the rescuer's back yard, the uncertainty they felt over their initial decision to take him home has been replaced by gratitude for the happiness he has brought them. Rhonda enjoys spoiling him rotten and hopes his story will encourage others to give a rescued dog a chance. Scarface deserved his chance. He enjoys spending an afternoon in the hammock and hanging out with his AmStaff buddy, Billy (Ch. Cloverhill's Tatanka Warrior).

Remembering Van Gogh

Early in March, 2001, New York State's Capital District newspapers and TV stations ran an account of a fire in Copake, NY in which Lydia Bulger, a longtime Copake resident perished. The tragedy further deepened when it was learned that the fire had claimed another victim, Lydia's Pit Bull Terrier, "Van Gogh". I'd like you to read my brief account of Van Gogh's life, a true hero-one whose presence changed lives– the seven-year-old dog who stayed with his 77-year-old friend, Lydia, to the very end.

Cydney Cross (now Out of the Pits president) and I were rescuing Greyhounds from New England dog tracks a few years back when we began to learn of another breed being badly exploited in this country, the American Pit Bull Terrier. It was then when we began to learn of a very special brindle Pit Bull being held in the Dutchess County SPCA in Hyde Park, NY–one who, according to a shelter volunteer, "just has something that goes right through you when he looks at you." He had been waiting for a home for months, and had been dubbed "Van Gogh" by shelter staff because of his very short ears (crudely cut off by someone.) Finally, after hearing about him over and over again, we called the shelter and told them that we would pick him up and find him a home, just as we did with Greyhounds. They were delighted, as he was very special to everyone, even though 40% to 60% of their large facility was occupied by Pit Bulls or crosses. The staff was especially delighted because some "suspicious-looking" visitors had looked him over more than once. Like most urban shelters, this one tries very hard to keep Pit Bulls out of the hands of those who would abuse them for fighting or drug-guarding purposes.

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The day before we were to pick up our new charge, we got a distressed call from the shelter telling us that the night before, someone had broken into the outside kennel runs and stolen Van Gogh and another Pit Bull, Pinkie, who had been spayed only the day before. Everyone was devastated; police were contacted; newspapers and TV stations ran stories and pictures; shelter staff walked the streets searching. Animal Control Officer Kathy Thorpe joined the effort, and volunteers began to stand guard at the shelter nightly. We were haunted with the knowledge the Van Gogh and Pinkie were now almost certainly living a hellish life.

Three months later, on a frigid January morning, an auto mechanic at a Poughkeepsie, NY repair shop climbed into a customer's car to drive it into the garage. As he sat in the vehicle, two dogs leaped onto him from the back seat. Terrified, the mechanic jumped from the car and called police. The police in turn called Kathy Thorpe, who later told me; "I arrived and these two skeletons all slashed up were jumping up on me tails wagging like crazy. Only after I saw the stitches on her belly did I understand that this was Pinky. Never have I wanted to have a cell phone as much as I did during that drive back to the shelter. Van Gogh and Pinky were back!"
Van Gogh's wounds were such that he had to be hospitalized before coming back into the shelter. But as soon as he did, shelter staff called us and asked if we would take both dogs. They were afraid that the individuals who had stolen the pair, would be back. We drove to Hyde Park that afternoon, and brought back the two skin and bone creatures. Van Gogh was still torn up and bumpy with deep abscesses; Pinky's white face and black body was a road map of nasty red gashes. Within a couple of months both were somewhat recovered, and Pinky was adopted and adored by a local family. Van Gogh was being fostered by member of the Greyhound rescue organization and her twelve Greyhounds. With her, Van Gogh began attending all of the New York Capital District Greyhound Adoption Clinics. Everybody there could feel the power of his presence, and what Cydney coined the "all-knowing" expression in his eyes as he looked onto the world. Glossy brindle now and imposing, he not only represented his breed magnificently, he had a dignity that was almost spiritual.

Some time later, we were very happy when an old friend, Phil Luning, decided to take Van Gogh home and make him his own. This was so clearly what Van Gogh wanted and needed, that within weeks his total devotion to Phil and his mom, Lydia Bulger, was almost palpable. Out in public, Van Gogh's eyes never left their faces and Lydia began calling this majestic creature her "baby". For Van Gogh, it was a well-earned paradise at last. The Bulger home was part of a family compound and every member of the family was a dog lover. Van Gogh loved, and was loved by, an extended family that included Lydia's grandchildren which he delighted in pulling through the snow on a sled. When Phil's mother fell and broke her hip, Van Gogh became her constant companion.
Last March, just over four years from the day Van Gogh finally found his home, Lydia and Van Gogh were alone in the house when a fire broke out. Due to her broken hip she was still an invalid. True to the legendary loyalty of his breed, Van Gogh was with her to the end. Many at Lydia's funeral mourned the great dog's passing, and tried to comfort Phil who had lost not only his mother, but also his best friend.

Van Gogh did not live and die in vain. It was he who provided the original inspiration for Out of the Pits Inc. He showed us what a Pit Bull was meant to be. Without him this website would not exist, and more importantly, hundreds of Out of the Pits adoptions would never have taken place. Each of these now-beloved dogs would have completed their already-started journey to an early death.

Van Gogh will stand forever in our minds and hearts as the quintessential Pit Bull–a dog that continues to offer only love and loyalty in spite of mankind's brutal treatment.

Mary Allen, OutOfThePits.Org
A Loyal Breed

Jack was an energetic six-year-old Pit Bull Terrier who met his master every day at the train station when his master returned from work. The dog knew the route to and from the station like the back of his paw — and following that route was the highlight of his day. So, when his master changed jobs and had to move to California, he thought it best to leave Jack on his home turf with a relative. But Jack would not stay with the family he was left with. He returned to his masters old house, even though it was boarded up and, there, he passed his solitary days beneath the portico. But every evening, tail wagging, he trotted of to the train station. However, evening after evening, there was no sign of the devoted dog's master. Confused and sad, he would return alone to the deserted house.

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The dog's depression grew. He refused food and, as the days passed, he became thinner and thinner. But every evening, ever hopeful, he'd go to the station to meet the train. And every evening, he'd return to the house more despondent than before.

A friend who lived nearby was so upset by it that he called the dog's master in California. That was all it took. The owner returned immediately. He took the same train that he had always taken when coming home. When it arrived at the station, there was jack, waiting and watching as the passengers got off — looking and hoping. And then, suddenly there he was, his beloved owner. Jack was sobbing almost as a child might sob. He was shivering all over as if he had a chill. The owner took his devoted dog back to California with him. They were never seperated again.
We at PitBullRescue.org know we cannot save every adoptable Pit Bull Terrier who needs a permanent, loving home. We can, however, try to make what difference we can. Every life we are able to save and every dog placed in a loving home makes it all worthwhile — especially to "that" dog.
One Pit Bull at a Time

A vacationing businessman was walking along a beach when he saw a young boy. Along the shore were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned. The boy was walking slowly along the shore and occasionally reached down and tossed a beached starfish back into the ocean. The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to the boy and said, "I have been watching what you are doing, son. You have a good heart, and I know you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around here and how many starfish are dying on every beach every day? Surely, such an industrious and kind-hearted boy such as yourself could find something better to do with your time. Do you really think that what you are doing is going to make a difference?" The boy looked up at that man and then he back down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish and, as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, "It makes a difference to that one."

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