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Dog fighting is a type of blood sport, generally defined as pitting two game dogs against one another in a ring or a pit for the entertainment of the spectators or the gratification of the dogfighters, who are sometimes referred to as dogmen.
In rural areas, dog fights are often staged in barns or outdoor pits; in urban areas, fights may occur in garages, basements, warehouses, abandoned buildings, back alleys, neighborhood playgrounds, or in the streets. Dog fights usually last until one dog is declared a winner, which occurs when one dog fails to scratch, one dog dies, or one dog jumps out of the pit. The loser, if not killed in the fight, is typically killed by the owner through a gun, beatings, or torture. However, sometimes dog fights end without declaring a winner. For instance, the dog's owner may call the fight. Dog fighting generates revenue from stud fees, admission fees and gambling. It is also a felony in all 50 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In addition to being a felony in all 50 U.S. states, the federal U.S. Animal Welfare Act makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly sell, buy, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any dog for purposes of having the dog participate in an animal fighting venture. The act also makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly use the mail service of the United States Postal Service or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for commercial speech for purposes of advertising a dog for use in an animal fighting venture, promoting or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the limits of the States of the United States. Worldwide, several countries have banned dog fighting, but it is still legal in some countries like Japan, Honduras, and parts of Russia.
Blood sports in general can be traced back to the Roman Empire. In 13 B.C., for instance, the ancient Roman circus slew 600 African beasts. Likewise, under Emperor Claudius's reign, as spectators cheered, 300 bears and 300 Libyan beasts were slain in the Colosseum. Dog fighting, more specifically, can also be traced to ancient Roman times. In 43 AD, for example, dogs fought alongside the Romans and the British in the Roman Conquest of Britain. In this war,the Romans used a breed that originated from Greece called Molossus; the Britons used broad-mouth Mastiffs, which were thought to descend from the Molossus bloodline and which also originated from Greece. Though the British were outnumbered and ultimately lost this war, the Romans were so impressed with the English Mastiffs that they began to import these dogs for use in the Colosseum, as well as for use in times of war. While spectators watched, the imported English Mastiffs were pitted against animals such as wild elephants, lions, bears, bulls, and gladiators.
Later, the Romans bred and exported fighting dogs to Spain, France and other parts of Europe until eventually these dogs made their way back to England. Though bull baiting and bear baiting were popular throughout the Middle Ages up to the 19th century in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, and Holland, the British pitted dogs against bulls and bears on a scale like no other. In 12th century England during the feudal era, the landed aristocracy, who held direct military control in decentralized feudal systems and thus owned the animals necessary for waging war, introduced bull baiting and bear baiting to the rest of the British population. In later years, bull baiting and bear baiting became a popular source of entertainment for the British royalty. For instance, Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558-1603, was an avid follower of bull and bear baiting; she bred Mastiffs for baiting and would entertain foreign guests with a fight whenever they visited England. In addition to breeding Mastiffs and entertaining foreign guests with a fight, Queen Elizabeth, and later her successor, King James I, built a number of bear gardens in London. The garden buildings were round and roofless, and housed not only bears, but also bulls and other wild animals that could be used in a fight. Today, a person can visit the Bear Garden museum near the Shakespeare Global Complex in Bankside, Southwark.
With the popularity of bull and bear baiting, bears needed for such fights soon became scarce. With the scarcity of bear population, the price of bears rose and, because of this, bull baiting became more common in England over time. Bulls who survived the fights were slaughtered afterwards for their meat, as it was believed that the fight caused bull meat to become more tender. In fact, if a bull was offered for sale in the market without having been baited the previous day, butchers were liable to face substantial fines. Animal fights were temporarily suspended in England when Oliver Cromwell seized power, but were reinstated again after the Restoration. Dog fighting, bear baiting, and bull baiting were officially outlawed in England by the Humane Act of 1835. The official ban on all fights, however, actually served to promote dog fighting in England. Since a small amount of space was required for the pit where a dog fight took place, as compared to the ring needed for bull or bear baiting, authorities had a difficult time enforcing the ban on dog fighting.
In 1817, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was brought to America and dog fighting became part of American culture. Yet, though historical accounts of dog fighting in America can be dated back to the 1750s, it was not until the end of the Civil War (1861-1865) that widespread interest and participation in the blood sport began in the United States. For instance, in 1881, the Mississippi and Ohio railroads advertised special fares to a dog fight in Louisville; public forums such as Kit Burns' Tavern, "The Sportman's Hall," in Manhattan regularly hosted matches. Many of these dogs thrown into the "professional pits" that flourished during the 1860s came from England and Ireland—where citizens had turned to dogs when bear baiting and bull-baiting became illegal in their countries.
In twentieth century America, despite the expansion of laws to outlaw dog fighting, dog fighting continued to flourish underground. Aiding in the expansion of dog fighting were the police and firemen, who saw dog fighting as a form of entertainment amongst their ranks. In fact, the Police Gazzette served as a "go to" source for information about where one could attend a fight. When Henry Bergh, who started the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), witnessed police involvement in these fights, he was motivated to seek and receive authority for the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Agents to have arresting power in New York. Additionally, Bergh's 1867 revision to New York's animal cruelty law made all forms of animal fighting illegal. According to the ASPCA website, the Humane Law Enforcement department of ASPCA is still in effect today. As laws were passed to outlaw the activity, high profile organizations, such as the United Kennel Club, who once endorsed the sport by formulating rules and sanctioning referees, withdrew their endorsement.
According to one scholar, Richard Strebel, the foundation for modern fighting dogs came from: 1. The Tibetan Dog; 2. The Mastiff, out of which came the Bordeaux dog, the English Bull dog, and the Pug; 3. The Great Dane, out of which came the Danish Dog and the Boxer; 4. The Newfoundland; and 5. The Saint Bernard, out of which came the Leonberg dog. However, Dieter Fleig disagreed with Strebel and offered the following list as composing of the foundation for modern fighting dogs: 1, The Tibetan Dog; 2. The Molossus; 3. The Bull Biter; 4. The Great Dane; 5. The Mastiff; 6. The Bull Dog; 5. The Bull and Terrier; and 6. The Chincha Bulldog.
The foundation breed of the fighting dog was, in its outward appearance, a large, low, heavy breed with a powerful build and strongly developed head, and tremendously threatening voice. Additionally, these foundation breeds were also bred for a powerful jaw that would enable them to defend and protect humans, to overpower and pull down large animals on a hunt, and to control large, unmanageable domestic animals. These dogs were also sometimes equipped with metal plates, chains, and collars with sharp spikes or hooked knives in order to be used in wars throughout history.
When bullbaiting became popular in England due to the shortage of bears, bull baiters soon realized that large fighting dogs were built too heavy and too slow for this type of combat. When fighting a bull, dogs were trained to grab onto the bull's nose and pin the bull's head to the ground If the dog failed to do this, the bull would fling the dog out of the ring with its horns. The British therefore decided to selectively breed fighting dogs for shorter legs and a more powerful jaw. These efforts resulted in the Old English Bulldog.
However, when countries started outlawing bull and bear baiting, dog fighters started pitting dogs against other dogs. With the prevalence of such combat, dogfighters soon realized bulldogs were inadequate and began to breed bulldogs with terriers for more desired characteristics. Terriers were most likely crossbred with bulldogs due to their "generally rugged body structure," speed, aggression, and "highly developed gameness." Yet, there is a debate over which type of terrier was bred with bulldogs in order to create the Bull and Terrier. For instance, Joseph L. Colby claimed that it was the old English White Terrier that the Bull and Terrier is descended from, while Rhonda D. Evans and Craig J. Forsyth contend that its ancestor is the Rat Terrier. Carl Semencic, on the other hand, held that a variety of terriers produced the Bull and Terrier.
Eventually, out of cross breeding bulldogs and terriers, the English created the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. When the Staffordshire Bull Terrier came to America in 1817, Americans began to selectively breed for gameness and created the American Pit Bull Terrier (originally known as the Pit Bull Terrier), which is a unique breed due to its absence of threat displays when fighting and its docility towards humans. Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Bull Terriers are all breeds that are commonly labeled as pit bulls. The fact that "pit bulls" were historically bred to fight bulls and bears has been used as justifications in some U.S. cities to implement Breed Specific Legislation.
After interviewing 31 dogmen and attending 14 dog fights in the Southern United States, Evans, Gauthier, and Forsyth theorized on what attracts men to dog fights. In their study, Evans, et al., discussed dog fighting's attractiveness in terms of masculinity and class immobility. In the United States, masculinity embodies the qualities of strength, aggression, competition, and striving for success. By embodying these characteristics, a man can gain honor and status in his society. Yet, working class occupations, unlike middle or upper class occupations, provide limited opportunities to validate this culturally accepted definition of masculinity. So, working class men look for alternative ways to validate their masculinity and obtain honor and status. One way to do this is through dogfighting. This is supported by the Evans, et al. findings: the majority of committed dogmen were mostly drawn from the working class, while the middle and upper classes were barely represented. Men from middle and upper classes have opportunities to express their masculinity through their occupations; dog fighting, therefore, is just a hobby for them while it plays a central role in the lives of working class men. Those from the higher classes are drawn in by the thrill and excitement of the fight.
Aside from enjoyment of the sport and status, people are also drawn to dog fighting for money. In fact, the average dog fight could easily net more money than an armed robbery, or a series of isolated drug transactions.
Dogs that are born, bought or stolen for fighting are often neglected and abused from the start. Most spend their entire lives alone on chains or in cages and only know the attention of a human when they are being trained to fight and they only know the company of other animals in the context of being trained to kill them. Additionally, most dogs spend their entire lives without adequate food, water, or shelter.
All fighting dogs are conditioned from a very early age to develop what dog-fighters refer to as "gameness." In the early stages of training, the dogs are incited to lunge at each other without touching and engage in quick, controlled fights called "rolls" or "bumps". Once the dogs appear match ready, they are pitted against stronger dogs to test their "gameness" or tenacity in the face of exhaustion and impending defeat. If the dogs pass the test, they are deemed ready to fight. The scope and method of training varies dramatically depending on the level and experience of the dog-fighter; however, the following implements and techniques are commonly used to train the dogs:
"Bait" animals are animals used to test a dog's fighting instinct; they are often mauled or killed in the process. Many of the training methods involve torturing and killing of other innocent animals. Often "bait" animals are stolen pets, puppies, kittens, rabbits, small dogs and even stock (pit bulls acquired by the dogfighting ring which appear to be passive or less dominant). Other sources for bait animals include wild or feral animals, animals obtained from a shelter, or animals obtained from "free to good home" ads. The snouts of bait animals are often wrapped with duct tape to prevent them from fighting back and they are used in training sessions to improve a dog's endurance, strength or fighting ability. A bait animal's teeth may also be broken to prevent them from fighting back. If the bait animals are still alive after the training sessions, they are usually given to the dogs as a reward, and the dogs finish killing them.
Often associated with gang activity, street fighters fight dogs over insults, turf invasions, or simple taunts like "my dog can kill your dog." These type of fights are often spontaneous; unorganized; conducted for money, drugs, or bragging rights; and occur on street corners, back alleys, and neighborhood playgrounds. Urban street fighters generally have several dogs chained in back-yards, often behind privacy fences, or in basements or garages. After a street fight, the dogs are often discovered by police and animal control officers either dead or dying. Due to the spontaneity of a street fight, they are very difficult to respond to unless reported immediately.
Hobbyists fight dogs for supplemental income and entertainment purposes. They typically have one or more dogs participating in several organized fights and operate primarily within a specific geographic network. Hobbyists are also acquainted with one another and tend to return to predetermined fight venues repeatedly.
Professional fighters breed generations of skilled "game dogs" and take a great pride in their dogs' lineage. These fighters make a tremendous amount of money charging stud fees to breed their champions, in addition to the fees and winnings they collect for fighting them. They also tend to own a large number of dogs—sometimes 50 or more. Professionals also use trade journals, such as Your Friend and Mine, Game Dog Times, The American Warrior, and The Pit Bull Chronicle, to discuss recent fights and to advertise the sale of training equipment and puppies. Some fighters operate on a national or even international level within highly secret networks. When a dog is not successful in a fight, a professional may dispose of it using a variety of techniques such as drowning, strangulation, hanging, gun shot, electrocution or some other method. Sometimes professionals and hobbyists dispose of dogs deemed aggressive to humans to street fighters.
Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. While dog fighting statutes exist independently of general anti-cruelty statutes and carry stiffer penalties than general state anti-cruelty statutes, a person can be charged under both or can be charged under one, but not the other—depending on the evidence. In addition to felony charges for dog fighting, forty-eight states and the District of Columbia, have provisions within their dogfighting statutes that explicitly prohibit attendance as a spectator at a dogfighting exhibition. Since Montana and Hawaii do not have such provisions, a person can pay an entrance fee to watch a dog-fight in either state and not be convicted under these statutes. Additionally, forty-six states, and the District of Columbia, make possessing, owning or keeping a fighting dog a felony.
While dog fighting was previously seen as an isolated animal welfare issues—and therefore rarely enforced, the last decade has produced a growing body of legal and empirical evidence that has revealed a connection between dog-fighting and other crimes within a community, such as organized crime, racketeering, drug distribution, and/or gangs. Within the gang community, fighting dogs compete with firearms as the weapon of choice; indeed, their versatile utility arguably surpasses that of a loaded firearm in the criminal underground. Drug dealers distribute their illicit merchandise, wagers are made, weapons are concealed, and the dogs mutilate each other in a bloody frenzy as crowds cheer on. Violence often erupts among the usually armed gamblers when debts are to be collected and paid. There is also a concern for children who are routinely exposed to dogfighting and are forced to accept the inherent violence as normal. The routine exposure of the children to unfettered animal abuse and neglect is a major contributing factor in their later manifestation of social deviance.
Animal advocates consider dog fighting to be one of the most serious forms of animal abuse, not only for the violence that the dogs endure during and after the fights, but because of the suffering they often endure in training.
According to a filing in U.S. District Court in Richmond by federal investigators in Virginia, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and published by the Baltimore Sun on July 6, 2007, a losing dog or one whose potential is considered unacceptable faces "being put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gun shot, electrocution or some other method". Some of the training of fighting dogs may entail the use of small animals (including kittens) as prey for the dogs.
Dog fighting has been popular in many countries throughout history and continues to be practiced both legally and illegally around the world.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, dog fighting has increasingly become an unlawful activity in most of the world.
Dog fighting has been declared illegal in the Republic of South Africa, however it is still very popular in the underground world, with dog fighting being a highly syndicate and organized crime. The NSPCA (National Council of SPCA's) is the largest animal welfare organization in Africa, and has been the organization that has conducted the most raids and busts, of which the most recent was in 2013, where 18 people were arrested, and 14 dogs were involved. Dog fighting is mostly practiced in the Western Cape, in the townships area where gangs and drugs are mostly associated with dog fighting.
Dog fighting has been documented in South Africa, particularly in the Western Cape region of Stellenbosch. The Stellenbosch Animal Welfare Society (AWS) frequently responds to complaints of night-time dog fighting in the town of Cloetesville in which hundreds of dogs fight. Young children may be used to transport fighting dogs to avoid arrest of the owners.
Dog fighting is not common, but can be found in some rural areas, and is illegal as defined by the Indian law.
According to historical documents, Hōjō Takatoki, the 14th shikken (shogun's regent) of the Kamakura shogunate was known to be obsessed with dog fighting, to the point where he allowed his samurai to pay taxes with dogs. During this period dog fighting was known as inuawase (犬合わせ?).
Dog fighting was considered a way for the Samurai to retain their aggressive edge during peaceful times. Several daimyō, such as Chosokabe Motochika and Yamauchi Yodo, both from Tosa Province (present-day Kōchi Prefecture), were known to encourage dog fighting. Dog fighting was also popular in Akita Prefecture, which is the origin of the Akita breed.
Dog fighting evolved in Kōchi to a form that is called tōken (闘犬?). Under modern rules, dogs fight in a fenced ring until one of the dogs barks, yelps, or loses the will to fight. Owners are allowed to throw in the towel, and matches are stopped if a doctor judges it is too dangerous. Draws usually occur when both dogs will not fight or both dogs fight until the time limit. There are various other rules, including one that specifies that a dog will lose if it attempts to copulate. Champion dogs are called yokozuna, as in sumo. Dog fighting is not banned at a nationwide level, but the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama and Hokkaidō all ban the practice. Currently, most fighting dogs in Japan are of the Tosa breed which is native to Kōchi.
Dog fighting and other forms of animal fighting are extremely popular in all parts of rural Pakistan, and is deeply rooted in the rural culture, where some 70 percent of the population resides. It has been a way for tribes, clans and the rural people to socialize while being entertained.  Even though it has recently been banned by law, it is still being practiced in rural Pakistan, especially in provinces such as Punjab, Azad Kashmir, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. There can apparently be as much as millions of rupees at stake for the owners of winning dogs, so different breeds have carefully been bred and selected specifically for the purpose, such as the Bully Kutta and Gull Dong.
Dog fighting and the possession of any fighting equipment designed for dog fighting is illegal in Australia. Dog fighting in Australia is often associated with gambling activities and other illegal practices such as drug dealing and firearms. The RSPCA is concerned that dog fighting involves the suffering or even the death of dogs for the purpose of entertainment. The illegal nature of dogfighting in Australia means that injured dogs rarely get veterinary treatment placing the dog's health and welfare at even greater risk. "Restricted Breed Dogs" cannot be imported into Australia. These include the Dogo Argentino, the Japanese Tosa, the Fila Brasileiro, the Perro de Presa Canario and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Of these, the Pit Bull Terrier and the Perro de Presa Canario are the only breeds currently known to exist in Australia and there are strict regulations on keeping these breeds, including a prohibition on transferring ownership.
Although animal cruelty laws exist in Russia, dog fighting is widely practiced. Laws prohibiting dogfights have been passed in certain places, and in others dogfights are legally held generally using Caucasian Shepherd Dog, Georgian shepherd, Central Asian Shepherd Dog. Temperament tests, which are a common and relatively mild form of dog fighting used for breeding purposes, are fairly commonplace. Dog fighting is prohibited in Moscow by order of that city's mayor.
Despite periodic dog-fight prosecutions, illegal canine pit battles continued after the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 of England and Wales. Sporting journals of the 18th and 19th centuries depict the Black Country and London as the primary English dog fight centres of the period.
Dog fighting is illegal in the United States. It has been illegal in Canada since 1892; however, the current law requires police to catch individuals during the unlawful act, which is often difficult.
According to a study by the College of Law of Michigan State University published in 2005, in the United States, dog fighting was once completely legal and was sanctioned and promoted during the colonial period (17th century through 1776) and continuing through the Victorian era in the late 19th century. It has become increasingly outlawed, a trend which has continued into the 21st century.
As of 2008, dog fighting is a felony in all states. It is against the law even to attend a dog fighting event, regardless of direct participation.
CNN estimated that in the United States about 40,000 individuals are involved as professionals in the sport of dog fighting as a commercial activity. Top fights are said to have potential purses of $100,000 (USD). CNN also stated that more than 100,000 people are engaged in dog fighting on a non-professional basis.
Despite legality issues, dogs are still commonly used for fighting purposes all across the continent.
Dog fighting is illegal in much of South America. The American Pit Bull Terrier is by far the most common breed involved in the bloodsport. The Fila Brasileiro and Dogo Argentino are also used as fighting dogs. The Dogo Cubano and Dogo Cordoba were used for fighting a century ago, but have become extinct.
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