US cracks down on dogfighting. Can pit bulls find a home?

Wednesday's raid netted 26 arrests and 450 pit bulls across seven states.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The US is getting serious about cracking down on dogfighting, as shown by a sweeping raid Wednesday which yielded 26 arrests across seven states and the seizure of 450 pit bulls bred to fight.

This is the biggest dogfighting raid in US history, according to the Humane Society of US (HSUS).

But as raids on shadowy dogfighting rings step up, the HSUS and animal adoption groups face a dilemma: Can they find homes for all the rescued dogs?

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Some pit bulls may become "casualties in the war between a society that says animal fighting is wrong and the issue of there not being enough homes for the animals being bred," says Robert DeFranco, a companion animal behaviorist and president of the American College of Applied Science in Crescent City, Fla.

Wednesday's raid was conducted with the cooperation of local, county, and state law enforcement, as well as the FBI, the US Department of Agriculture, and the HSUS. Those arrested were charged under federal laws for buying and selling fighting dogs and engaging in dogfighting.

"The message is loud and clear to the dogfighting business that thriving on pain and suffering is not going to be tolerated any longer," says Scotlund Haisley, senior director of emergency services at the HSUS in Washington.

Dogfighting raids have increased since the 2007 arrest and conviction of former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick in Virginia for breeding fighting dogs and engaging in dog fights became a rallying point for animal rights activists.

The successful adoption of Mr. Vick's dogs showed that even dogs bred to fight can find good homes. Thousands of pit bulls are euthanized each day in the US, experts say.

Media publicity and work by shelter organizations means all the rescued dogs from Wednesday's raids are likely to find a home, Mr. DeFranco says, adding that his school is willing to take two of the harder cases, if needed. "From Mississippi to New York, if everybody can get together, I think every one of those animals can find a home."

The Humane Society of Missouri has taken more than 300 dogs from the raids, and the dogs will be evaluated by behavioral experts to see if they can be rehabilitated. The adoption process will likely be similar to what happened to the dogs seized from Vick's Bad Newz Kennels in Virgina.

But in general, pit bull adoption agencies are overwhelmed. Most pit bull shelters contacted by the Monitor on Thursday said they were not taking dogs, with one shelter saying on its voice mail message: "We're way, way overfull."

The breeding and handling of pit bulls plays a huge role in their temperament, which can run the gamut from gentle to overtly aggressive, even deadly. There are a number of temperament tests on the market, but none can fully guarantee future behavior, making pit bulls a special case in the dog adoption world.

"If you have an animal that is controlled, handled, trained and nurtured, the animal will most likely be fine," says DeFranco. "But if you put the animal in an environment where it's motivated to fight, then you could have a weapon that can do some serious damage."

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