"I just saw a surprising statistic from a Los Angeles study," Steve Blackwood, a sergeant in the San Diego Sheriff's Department, said recently. "In two out of three narcotics raids, pit bulls were used as the guard dogs."
San Diego investigators also were told that local members of motorcycle gangs were stashing their drugs beneath the doghouses of their pit bulls. "Street dope dealers and street gangs have gone to pit bulls," says Budd Johnson, an inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service who is based in San Diego. Law enforcement officials are seeing the same thing all over the country, and the pit bull populations in urban areas have mushroomed as a result. There have also been instances when pit bulls were used in armed robberies, in effect taking the place of a weapon, and one case in which a 16-year-old girl was raped by a man who allegedly threatened her with his two pit bulls.
You've got a bunch of kooks out there who are getting these dogs and making them mean and registering them," says Andy Johnson of the UKC. "Every time somebody writes how mean these dogs are, the demand for them jumps up. You can make any dog mean if you work at it."
Now, and historically, at the core of the breed's problems is dogfighting. This loathsome "sport" is, by most accounts, more widespread than ever in the U.S. At the same time it is even less humane, having passed from the hands of the old-time "gentlemen" breeders into the mitts of the borderline sadists. Once primarily a rural dementia, dogfighting has become a city problem as well, the outgrowth of the popularity of pit bulls. It matters little that dogfighting is illegal in every state, and a felony-level crime in 36 states. "You can virtually find a convention [as dogfights are called in the jargon of the sport] on any weekend in any of the 50 states," says Eric Sakach of the West Coast Regional office of the Humane Society in Sacramento.
"There are probably more matches taking place today than ever before because of the popularity of the breed," says Stratton, whose books on pit bull terriers include such chapters of general interest as: "Dimensions of the Dog Pit" and "Fluid Therapy for Treating Hypo-Volemic Shock."
"Dogfighting is the greatest perversion of the special relationship that exists between people and dogs," says Randall Lockwood of the Humane Society. "It is people subjecting dogs to incredible cruelty. And now that has turned into dogs killing people."
Dogfighters vehemently dispute this, and with a straight face one writer compared pitting a bulldog with taking a greyhound out on a run. When, as a youth, Stratton asked Mrs. William J. Lightner, the wife of a legendary pit bull breeder, if dogfighting was cruel, he recalls that she responded, "It was cruel all right, but not to the dogs, for fighting was the very breath of life to them because of their breeding. But it was cruel to the people because it was hard not to get especially attached to your best dog, the very one likely to be matched, and sometimes they were lost."
The dog, in the warped perspective of the dogfighting zealot, dies happy, fulfilled, like an Iranian soldier. Next stop, puppy heaven. As one pitman bragged to Benno Kroll, who wrote a superb account of dogfighting in the November 1979 issue of Geo: "My dogs die with their tails up and wagging."
Perhaps. They also die with their legs broken, their ears mangled and their flesh torn. "We've seen them, with both front legs broken, push themselves across the ring to fight," says Blackwood, the San Diego sheriff.
Many times the dogs die hours after the fight of hypovolemic shock—dehydration—since the prevailing wisdom says to dehydrate your animal before fighting him to cut down on his potential loss of blood. And sometimes a dog dies minutes after the fight from a bullet to the brain, if the dog happens to "cur out"—refuse to engage in battle.