Education and Resources
A Word on Bait Dogs…and Leonidas
There is a lot of misinformation out there on all sides of pit bull “issues.” A lot of pit bull fanciers are rightfully skeptical of information that comes from the animal rights movement about fighting dogs and some of the associated folk lore such as “bait animals.”
The animal rights movement did a great disservice to dogs, especially pit bulls, with its fund raising propaganda featuring dog fighting in the 1970’s and 80’s. They spotlighted animal cruelty and used the power of fear and compassion to raise money. In doing so, they greatly raised awareness of dog fighting across the board and may have done more to spread it than to stop it.
The downside of making good, decent people aware of dog fighting was that bad people were also made aware of it. Often these campaigns were how they learned to do it. One result of this method of learning dog fighting was the actualization of the “bait dog” urban myth. Authors on all sides of fighting and game bred dog issues, from Diane Jessup to Dawn Capp to Richard Stratton, have all observed that bait dogs were non-existent before these fund raising campaigns.
In all fairness, dog fighters may not be innocent in the root of this myth. There are cases where dogs used to “roll” new dogs had their canine teeth filed down or even removed to minimize the damage done to the new dog. It was usually a dog from their kennel or line judged unworthy to compete in the pit. I don’t know if this is common practice, but it does happen and helps perpetuate this “bait dog” myth.
Someone who knows nothing of dog fighting and is simply intrigued by the sadistic aspects of it may have the mistaken impression that a dog fight is about "blood lust." Dog fights are not about “blood lust” and there is no need to sacrifice smaller animals to this imagined purpose. Many do not understand the canine working drive exploited for dog fighting. A dog either has that drive or doesn’t and it can’t be created with defenseless animal sacrifices.
Sadly, this urban myth created to raise money through fear became a reality. Today we find dogs who have been drugged, or their mouths taped shut , or otherwise incapacitated, that have been killed or close to it.
There are two things I hear a lot in shelter dog work and in rescue that I think are incorrect - most times: “we think he was abused,” and “he was used as a bait dog.”
There is animal abuse and there are bait dogs (now). But an animal doesn’t have to be abused to be hand-shy, cower, fear men, fear loud noises or show fear or timidity in any number of situations. This can simply be from poor socialization, poor genetics or any other of a variety of factors. Equally, an animal that has scars on it was not necessarily used as a bait animal. Dogs can get scars from anything in life and they can be particularly visible on short-haired dogs whether or not they are actually pit bulls. Scars can come from running into a tree branch or stump, snagging a nail on a deck or fence, rough play, a brief scuffle with a housemate, an encounter with a bold cat, getting too close to wildlife, or even just from a tough life on the streets as a stray.
The point is if you don’t know the past of your dog, it’s tough to say what really happened. But it doesn’t mean it was something from one of the scary myths we grew up hearing. It could just be that something didn’t go well for the dog in the past and now he is counting on you for a better future.
Which brings us to Leonidas…
Yes, we used the word “bait.” But we used it because we couldn’t think of a word that worked better, not because of any suspected involvement in dog fighting.
Leonidas was dangled from a string like a worm on a hook for another dog to eat him. “Bait” just seems to work here.
We have no idea if this had anything to do with dog fighting. In fact, from what we know, we tend to think it didn’t. We think this was just plain old torture of a puppy by sadistic kids for no other reason than the thrill of it. We know more things about Leonidas’ beginnings than we are comfortable discussing because of the nature of it. However, this was not a dog we found on the street with a few scars and created an imagined a past. We know what happened to him.
But even knowing what happened to him we don’t dwell on it, because he doesn’t. His story is worth telling not because he is a pit bull or because it can somehow bring awareness to dog fighting. It is worth telling because it is about a game little dog who went through hell and came out smiling. It is about triumph and the realization that Leonidas is just a dog with the strength to love life no matter what.
Photo by JJ Cook