I make an effort to contact law enforcement officers involved in any good sized dog fight bust in order to evaluate the dogs for the LawDogsUSA program. I was discouraged after the horrible handling of the Vick dogs by all involved; the disappointment of never getting anyone qualified into evaluate them and the mad scrabble for the considerable amounts of money which went with the dogs – but life goes on, and I keep trying to get access to bust dogs. Why? I think it sends an important message that the American pit bull is such a great dog it can recover from abuse most other breeds could never handle. As well, I think it is important for kids to see that even if they get off to a “bad start”, they can still make something of their life.
In February of 2008 authorities in Pima County, Arizona arrested Emily Dennis, Robert Smith, Terry Williams, Juan Verdin and his wife, Zenadia Verdin and Mahlon (“Pat”) Patrick. They seized over 50 guns, thousands in cash and about 150 dogs.
Pat Patrick is a “household” name for those familiar with the history of the American pit bull. He has always been a controversial figure, and never popular with other dog fighters despite the fact his dogs were sought after for dog fighting purposes. As a breeder of fighting dogs, he was successful, and today most winning bloodlines trace back in part to some of his “Bolio” or “Tombstone” lines. (Note: Tombstone died of heartworms).
There are many rumors about Pat Patrick, his mental status, his wealth status, and his yard of dogs. But the facts were these: on the day of the bust officers discovered over one hundred dogs living their lives in virtual isolation primarily in kennels, being cared for by two people; Patrick states he is “indigent”, which begs the question ‘how could he afford to feed and provide care for over 100 dogs?’. The dogs were not aggressive toward humans, rather they were terrified. Even on their home territory they tried to bury their heads between their barrels and the fence. Or they cowered in barrels and stared out with haunted, frightened eyes at those who had come to help them.
The Patrick line has produced genetically shy dogs for years, and while being “profoundly” shy does not keep a dog from fighting for its life in a pit, it does keep it from being a satisfactory companion animal. Inbreeding and linebreeding on these genetically shy dogs produced a heart wrenching parade of profoundly shy animals.
The Humans Society of the United States offered to fly me to Tucson for the purposes of evaluating the bust dogs and determining if any of them could be salvaged for the LawDogsUSA program. I had high hopes that out of well over 100 dogs I could find some with the drive, temperament and physical soundness I needed. I would be sadly disappointed.
The dogs had settled into their new quarters at the various shelters where they are being housed. Out of the entire group I found only two dogs with any human aggression issues. Not a bad percentage for dogs who never had the least socialization or proper upbringing!
But kennel after kennel held shivering, sad eyed, profoundly shy dogs. This was not “I don’t like it here” – this was genetically based, unsound temperament. They were terrified of the world simply because their genes told them to be. Science has proven that shyness in dogs has a very high inheritability; it is a genetic issue. Coupled with their deprived upbringing these dogs never had a chance. Very sadly, in my opinion, for the vast majority of these dogs, euthanasia in the arms of someone speaking kindly to them is the best life can offer them now. I pray they will not be taken to some “sanctuary” where they will linger for years. Since Patrick and Dennis chose not to bond out their animals, their fate rests with authorities. Verdid signed his dogs over to authorities.
I was kindly assisted in my efforts to see these dogs by the staff of the Pima Animal Control and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. The dogs from the other bust suspects were unsuitable for a variety of reasons from advanced age to healing from severely ingrown collars.
It was a stunning experience to look at so many dogs of a breed I love and see such a shocking parade of physical and mental damage. But the experience was tempered by meeting several pit bull advocates working to care for these dogs as well as Detective Therese Deschenes, of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, who was the lead investigator in this case. This woman is a real animal lover, and spends her days helping the area’s animals who can’t help themselves. It was a pleasure to meet her. I have named one of the pups in honor of her.
As soon as they are released at the end of April, The Humane Society of the United States will be paying for the three animals I selected to be shipped from Arizona to the LawDogsUSA kennel. Sadly, none of these adult dogs showed the drive needed or were just too shy to be a working dog. However, there were some pups which showed nice retrieve drive. My main concern is that the first 16 weeks of a dog’s life are the “critical period” in which all socialization and imprinting MUST be done. These pups were about 8 weeks old when seized, and had only experienced a cement kennel run all their lives. From there they were placed in a shelter kennel. These pups are going to be very disadvantaged due to the judge’s decision to not release them in a timely fashion. The three pups, dubbed “Tucson”, “Arizona” and “Therese” will never have had any of the benefits of proper socialization during their critical periods, but for the sake of the pups, I am willing to give them their chance.
UPDATE – AUGUST 2008
The Patrick dogs were a challenging group of animals; far more challenging than the “average bust” due to the long term breeding practices of Pat Patrick; it appears to me that there was inbreeding without the culling obviously needed to produce physically and mentally sound animals. The animals as a group were among the most genetically challenged I have ever seen in my long career in animal control and as an American pit bull fancier.
I took on “Pima”, “Arizona” and “Tucson”, hopeful they could overcome their poor genetics and even more challenging first few important months of life. All three pups were sweet and loving with humans and never stopped trying to kiss anyone in their reach.
I take the future of the breed, and the life of every American pit bull very seriously. If a dog or pup which comes into my program is unable to lead a useful, positive life as pet or working dog due to medical or temperament considerations, then I consider euthanasia in my arms as the most humane option. It hurts – deeply – but my respect for the human/animal bond makes me strongly oppose the practice of dumping active, loving dogs into so called “sanctuaries” where they will never experience the hard exercise and love of one owner which every pit bull deserves. I consider the dumping of dogs into these “above ground pet cemeteries” to live out the rest of their lives in what amounts to a boarding kennel, to be the height of disrespect for our noble companions – and LawDogsUSA will never take this “easy road out”.
It is with deep regret that I report that “Tucson” (the male) was found to have developed uncontrollable dog aggression. With no socialization or training to channel his drive during his critical period (21 days to 16 weeks) this pup would never be able to be a working dog and would not be an animal I would chose to place as a pet dog. Overly reactive aggression toward non threatening dogs is not typical of temperamentally sound American pit bulls; nor is it a sign of “gameness”. It is, in fact, most often a defensive (fearful) reaction caused by poor genetics.
Training had begun with “Pima” and “Arizona” and they were favorites with customers in the many stores I work in. They loved everybody. Both dogs developed a very aggressive form of demodex mange – common in inbred dogs with compromised immune systems – and were being treated for that when I evaluated them for structural soundness. Both girls were suffering from severe “luxating patellas”, which precluded their use as working dogs or even sound pets. Here is some information on luxating patellas from a veterinarian site:
“An affected dog commonly stops and cries out in pain as he is running. The affected leg will be extended rearward, and for a while, the dog is unable to flex it back into the normal position. Uncorrected, the patellar ridges will wear, the groove will become even shallower and the dog will become progressively more lame. Arthritis will prematurely affect the joint, causing a permanently swollen knee with poor mobility.”
As well “Pima” suffered from “slipping hocks” which also causes premature arthritis of the hock joint.
After consultation with my veterinarian, the decision was made to euthanise these two girls. This was NOT an easy decision. Obviously, I had high hopes for these pups to show the world that “bust dogs” are individuals and need to be evaluated as such and given a chance if that chance is there for them. What “Pima”, “Tucson” and “Arizona” showed the world is that despite being brought into this world as a commodity and withstanding early social isolation which would have made dogs of almost any other breed fearful or aggressive, these little guys were still willing to kiss humanity.
I want to thank the Humane Society of the United States for giving these pups the chance they so richly deserved. I would also encourage breeders of American pit bulls to educate themselves about health testing and correct, sound conformation. Nothing is sadder than a spirited, happy, friendly pit bull companion who suffers physical pain and debilitation due to poor breeding practices.