Some happy endings for dogs in fighting bust

Brad Fox with Alachua Humane Society carries one of the dogs off the property.
Brad Fox with Alachua Humane Society carries one of the dogs off the property.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Addison, a black and white pit bull, sleeps each night on her owners’ bed, snuggling into the curves of their legs. She never caught on to the game of fetch but pushes a basketball around her Annapolis, Maryland backyard. She takes special obedience classes so she can go into elementary schools as parts of an anti-animal cruelty education program.

It’s a far cry from her life eight months ago, when she lived tethered on a heavy chain in an alleged dog-fighting operation.

Addison was one of 367 pit bulls seized in August in a multistate southeastern raid that investigators called the second-biggest dog fighting bust in history. Eight months after the raid, the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are working to house, evaluate and rehabilitate the animals with the hopes of finding homes for the ones suitable for adoption.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Daisy Balawejder, manager of the dog fighting rescue coalition for the Humane Society of the United States.

“We’ve literally had dogs go from Massachusetts to Seattle,” Balawejder said.

In her office hangs a sign proclaiming “Zero Dull Days On The Job.” Nearby, one of the dogs seized in the raid – now the resident office canine – naps and snores in a dog-sized hammock.

“These dogs surprise us over and over again. They are sweet and soft, despite the fact they’ve been through hell,” Balawejder said.

Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA field investigations and response, said the dogs were tethered on heavy chains attached to car axles buried in the ground. Many were malnourished; their bones were clearly visible under their skin. Most were covered in parasites and some had scars from years of fighting.

“There really is no worse form of animal cruelty than what we see in animal fighting,” Rickey said.

Rickey said the Michael Vick case, in which fighting dogs seized from the NFL quarterback’s Bad Newz Kennel were placed in rescue facilities and homes, changed perceptions.

“The thought had been these dogs really couldn’t be placed and had to be euthanized,” Rickey said.

Rickey said rescuers believe each dog should be treated as an individual, evaluated for temperament and a decision made about potential placement.

Jasmine’s House, a Maryland pit bull rescue named after a dog in Vick dogfighting case, has taken in five of the dogs from the raid in August, including Addison.

Addison did not have scars from fighting. Rescue co-founder Kate Callahan said that likely meant she was too young to go into the ring. Another dog named Campbell that came to Jasmine’s House does have scars and has proven to be a tougher case.

“Campbell spent years on a chain,” Callahan said.

The dog supposedly bred to be fearsome is afraid to go outside because he’s overwhelmed by new noises and sights. However, despite his past, he gets along very well with other dogs, Callahan said. If the dog fighters were breeding dogs to be aggressive with other animals, they failed miserably with Campbell, Callahan joked.

A trial is scheduled for May in federal court in Montgomery for defendants in the Alabama case. Many of the dogs are still being held as evidence, their futures uncertain.

Owner Kim Speed said Addison was initially cautious around men, but otherwise does not seem to bear mental scars from her past.

“We feel so fortunate to have her. She’s just a bundle of joy. She’s so sweet. I often wonder what she remembers,” Speed said.

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