Where are all these pit bulls coming from? Local shelters filled with breed; kids and dogfighting rings blamed
by Michael D. Mullins
Sep 24, 2006 | 808 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sixty-five percent of the 566 stray dogs taken to Jersey City's Liberty Humane Society shelter in 2005 were pit bulls or pit-mixes.

Because of the influx, dogs of other breeds have had to be transferred to shelters outside the area because pit bulls take so long to adopt out and fill so much space at area shelters.

Twenty percent (approximately 76) of the 382 pits rescued at the LHS in 2005 showed physical signs of fighting or abuse, such as open wounds or scars around their face, ears, and front legs. Sixty percent of all incoming pits or pit mixes exhibited some form of aggression, according to LHS Director Niki Dawson.

Animal rescuers say that there are so many pit bull strays because of unregulated breeders who mate dogs for dogfights in urban areas like Jersey City, and because of irresponsible owners who buy pit bulls as a status symbol and don't neuter them.

An investigation by the Reporter showed that non-existent laws, a lack of neutering at one of the two area shelters, and other enforcement problems contribute to the overrun. There are, however, ways to solve the problems.The sad story of 7 Myrtle Ave.

"There's a direct link between fighting dogs, unrestricted breeding, and the number of pits we have on the streets in Jersey City," said Dawson recently. "It's a status thing for these kids. Plus [breeding is] an easy moneymaker for them."

According to Dawson, a common practice for locals involved in dogfighting is to house their dogs in abandoned buildings or unoccupied, recently-renovated homes a few weeks prior to a fight. During the summer of 2004, at least 15 dogs were brought in by animal control officers to the LHS shelter from an abandoned house on 7 Myrtle Ave. in Jersey City.

With the exception of two puppies that were adopted out and one adult that had been stolen from its owner and was reunited with its family, all of the other dogs were euthanized due to their aggressive behavior.

In October of 2004, a similar incident occurred at 27 Van Cleef St. in Jersey City, where eight pit bulls were removed by animal control from another abandoned house after they were also suspected to have been part of a dogfighting ring.

When houses are not available, local youths, who are the primary actors behind dogfighting in Jersey City, will tie up dogs in some little-used place because the kids' mothers will not allow them to take the dog home, according to Jersey City Animal Control Officer Joseph Frank.

Many times these dogs will wind up getting loose and adding to the stray population on the streets of Jersey City.

According to New Jersey's SPCA Chief of Enforcement Carl Galioto, dogfighting is rampant throughout the state.

"They're [dogfighters] prevalent in every county of our state," said Galioto. "Cruelty seems to be on the rise all across the state."

One pit bull mix was rescued on Myrtle Avenue in Jersey City in the summer of 2001 by animal rescuer Catherine Grimme. Because the dog was gentle and refused to fight, it had been used as a "bait dog" by the owners. Bait dogs are thrown into a small area with an aggressive dog before a fight, in order to give the fighting dog confidence and a taste for blood. Sometimes cats, puppies, and small dogs of other breeds are used.

Grimme eventually arranged for the dog to be adopted by a kind person in New Jersey, who named it "Oliver" (see photo). Dogfighting task force

Due to the amount of dogfighting throughout New Jersey, Galioto said he has had to form a special task force within his department solely for investigations into such crimes.

Dogfighting is regarded by New Jersey Law as a third-degree felony. If convicted, violators face a sentence of up to five years for the first time and 10 years for a second offense, plus a $10,000 fine. However, rarely are such penalties enforced, according to State Animal Control Officer Hector Carbajales.

Instead of receiving jail time, violators are usually found guilty of another charge instead of animal cruelty. They receive community service 90 percent of the time, according to Carbajales, who is also the director of the SPCA shelter in Jersey City. Dogfights are covered up quickly

Due to the underground nature of the illegal activity and the intimidation tactics dogfighters can use in a community, many law enforcement officials have difficulty catching and successfully prosecuting those involved. "It's hard to catch them unless you get an informant or someone who is willing to testify in court," said Frank.

Frank added that when authorities do find animals that have been abused, individuals at the scene almost always claim not to know who the owner is.

"Many times," he said, "people will anonymously report a dog fight or refuse to testify when it goes to court." Galioto estimates that approximately 90 percent of alleged instances of dogfighting are thrown out of court because witnesses refuse to come forward for fear of retribution from the suspect. Often, the suspect is wanted for other crimes in addition to animal cruelty.

"When you do grab most of these people, they all have records, drugs, murders, rapes, but we catch them with pit bull fighting," Officer Carbajales said. An incident in Hoboken

In addition to the criminality of those who engage in the violent activity, the fly-by-night nature and locations add to the difficulty of shutting down dogfighting rings. "They use basements, empty lots, secluded areas that are out of public site a lot of times," said Frank.

One example of this occurred in Hoboken in 1998.

After having received complaints of dogfighting near the southern border of town along the train tracks, Hoboken Health Officer Frank Sasso observed individuals engaging in the illegal activity from Palisades Avenue in Jersey City.

In the time it took Sasso to get to Hoboken, which was only a matter of minutes, the dogfighters were able to evacuate the area, leaving no evidence that the fight had ever taken place.

According to Sasso, that was the last reported incident of dogfighting to take place in mile-square Hoboken, to his knowledge.

In Hoboken and Jersey City, dogs are regarded as "household waste" and as long as they are packaged properly, their carcasses may be disposed of with the garbage outside one's house.

In most cases, however, deceased dogs as well as dogs that are in need of medical attention are routinely abandoned in public areas to be picked up by local authorities.

According to Frank, a common dumping ground for dogfighters is in the industrial area of Caven Point Avenue in Jersey City.

Many of the dogs who are recovered alive will wind up euthanized because of their past experience and the aggressive behavior that resulted from it.

Of the 382 pit bulls or pit-mixes that were impounded in 2005 at the LHS shelter, 233 had to be euthanized because they posed a potential threat to humans. Anonymous breeder explains

One reason that so many pit bulls roam the streets of Jersey City is because of the unrestricted and unregulated breeding practices in Hudson County.

In the city of Camden, people who breed dogs must have a license, but not in any of the towns in Hudson County.

One licensed breeder who currently operates out of Jersey City, and who wishes to remain anonymous, explained the attraction for youths in the inner city to become pit bull breeders.

"There's money in it," he said. "That's why they do it.

It's all about the money. You got a lot of young kids who don't know what they're doing. They're taking two pits and breeding them because they think they're going to make a lot of money. Next thing, they're stuck in a shelter or on the street."

The street value for a pit bull puppy can range from $400 to $600, the breeder said.

The Jersey City breeder started out in Hoboken selling his dogs to people in his neighborhood, but now uses a website called www.bluepits.com, which has links to various other sites. He claims to get upwards of $1,200 for his blue-eyed pits, which he has sold to buyers from as far away as Italy, Greece, and Japan. Problem with one shelter

In addition to buying un-neutered pit bulls on the streets or from the web, some in the animal rescue community complain that shelters, which are not legally required to fix dogs before adopting them out to the public, can function as potential sources for breeders.

There are two shelters in Jersey City. One of them, the LHS shelter, was founded in 2002 by volunteers in response to dissatisfaction with the SPCA shelter, which at the time held a contract with the city. The LHS shelter is located at 235 Jersey City Blvd. and currently holds the contract with the city of Jersey City to take in strays. It spays and neuters all outgoing animals, as opposed to the SPCA shelter on Johnston Avenue, which does not.

The SPCA shelter on Johnston Avenue, on the other hand, is currently in contract with Union City to take in that city's strays even though it is located in Jersey City.

In 2001, the SPCA was investigated by the state's Commission on Investigation, which found the shelter to have a host of problems, including unsanitary conditions and a worker who allegedly "siphoned off" pet food to sell to a private guard dog owner for profit. The shelter's management has changed since the time of that investigation.

This reporter walked into the SPCA shelter on Sept. 8 and asked the shelter's manager, Sandy, if there were any unfixed pit bulls available for adoption.

Sandy told this reporter to go into the back of the kennel, where another shelter employee named José directed him to a reddish-gold 1-year-old male pit bull who was being kept in a cage. Noticing that a female pit bull in the cage next to it had recently given birth to a litter, this reporter asked if either dog was fixed.

Jose's response was "no" and that the two dogs had recently been bred, resulting in a litter of five pups, each of which was apparently sold on the street for $500.

The reporter then asked Jose how much it would cost for both pits, at which time the reporter was led back to Sandy, who gave a price of $160 for both. However, before going any further, Sandy said that she would have to call someone to make sure that the owner was not coming back for the dogs, and that she would call the reporter back at a later time.

The reporter received no phone call from the shelter about the two dogs. It should be noted that Sandy did ask the reporter's purpose for wanting the dogs, which he gave as self-protection in his home.

When later asked about the incident, the shelter's director, Hector Carbajales, said that Sandy must have been mistaken. Carbajales said the dogs were not, in fact, up for adoption.

Carbajales said that the dogs were currently being held by the Union City Police in connection with a narcotics investigation of which Sandy had no knowledge.

Carbajales also said that the shelter would never give one person two pit bulls of the opposite sex that had not been fixed.

He noted that the shelter has a policy of not adopting out dogs, particularly pit bulls, to minors or individuals they suspect might use them for fighting or breeding.

Prior to the adoption of any dog, applicants to the SPCA shelter are screened and must agree to being visited by Carbajales or another animal control officer in the weeks following the adoption, in order to assess the dog's environment.

Currently, the shelter, which is a non-for profit, no-kill facility, cannot afford to spay or neuter its outgoing animals, but it is in the process of applying for grants.

They will hopefully be capable of offering that service in February or March of next year, said Carbajales.

Currently, the shelter offers those who adopt an un-neutered animal an opportunity to get the dog or cat spayed or neutered at a discounted price through veterinarians Dr. Kimberly Young of North Bergen or Dr. Jay Kim of Union City. Where many dogs end up

For most pit bulls bred into the world of fighting or kept temporarily as a status symbol, their final destination is a cage.

Due to their reputation for aggression, pit bulls in area shelters take a considerably longer time to place in homes compared with other breeds.

"It takes us a very long time to find homes for [pit bulls]," said Leslie Piccone, who runs a shelter in Hillsboro, N.J. that provides space for strays through the rescue organization C.A.P. (Companion Animal Placement), based in Hoboken. "People are afraid to take them many times. They think they're going to attack them or their family."

In response to their negative reputation, rescue groups and adoption agencies have sprung up across the country dealing specifically with placing pit bulls and redefining their image.

Two local examples are www.realpitbull.com out of Wayne Township and the Friends of Terriers Inc. out of Asbury Park.

But happy endings do exist for some who get a second chance at life.

In August of 1996, Cathie Reyes of Hoboken received a phone call from a friend who was walking her dog by Marine View Park in Jersey City, when a puppy was thrown from a car and landed on the street in front of a group of kids.

Reyes, who had been involved in animal rescue work, rushed to the scene and found a 35-lb, six-month-old pit bull with cigarette burns covering its neck and head area.

After talking to the children in the area, Reyes learned the story of the dog. Apparently, the dog's original owner, a young girl, had traded it for a gold bracelet. The dog's most recent owner renamed the dog "2-Pac" and tried to force the dog to fight by extinguishing cigarettes on its body, but the dog refused.

Having no use for the dog, the new owner disposed of it.

For the last 10 years, "Mack," as he is now called, has been living with Reyes in Hoboken with her two other dogs, a Dachshund and a Yorkshire Terrier-Chihuahua mix, as well as with her four birds.

"From the minute I got him home, he has been the most wonderful and gentle dog I have ever had," said Reyes last week. "He loves children; he lets them pull on his tail and tap him on the nose, which a lot of dogs won't. I'm blessed to have him. I would bring another pit into my home before I would bring another breed."

She added, "It's not a dangerous breed. It's the dangerous people."

Another pit bull success story coming out of Hoboken involves City Hall employee Joseph Corrado, who adopted a pit-mix that was close to being euthanized at a Paramus shelter. Corrado has had "Olivia" for four years now and occasionally takes her to City Hall when visiting the mayor, causing some of the receptionist's in the office to describe her as the city's mascot.

"She's the sweetest, gentlest thing on earth," said Corrado. "She's great with other dogs, children; everybody who meets her, loves her."

Olivia also holds a special place in the heart of Hoboken Mayor David Roberts, a dog lover who himself owns a chocolate Labrador named "Coco."

"I do like Olivia," said Roberts. "She's a very loyal, special dog, and we do enjoy her company when Joe brings her around." What can be done?

In order to combat dogfighting and the ever-growing stray population in urban areas, many in the law enforcement community say more laws must be in place to hinder the criminal and irresponsible behavior.

"I see so many kids out there with pits," said Jersey City Animal Control Officer Frank, "and that shouldn't be. There needs to be a certain age requirement to be able to own a dog. You should be at least 18."

Frank recalled finding 15 pit bulls in an abandoned house on Ocean Avenue in Jersey City a couple of years back. All the dogs belonged to kids in the area who were afraid to bring them to their home, keeping them instead in the vacant building.

State Animal Control Officer Carbajales feels the root of the problem is in the lack of ordinances in Jersey City and other cities.

"You need to have the person who is breeding licensed, and not everyone should be allowed to breed like it is today," said Carbajales. There are no laws in local towns requiring dog breeders to be licensed, nor laws on the number of dogs a person can own.

Carbajales pointed to the Camden's ordinances as a model for Hudson County. Camden requires all dog breeders to be licensed, or else have their dogs seized by the city.

On June 9 of this year, director Niki Dawson of the Liberty Humane Shelter led a class for local authorities on dogfighting. The attendees were 18 Jersey City Police Officers, 10 animal control officers from Bergen, Hudson and Essex counties, and two state SPCA officers.

"We need animal control officers to enforce the laws that are already on the books," said Dawson. "And there should be spay and neuter ordinances passed. People usually don't fight dogs after they have been fixed, because [the dogs] tend to be less aggressive."

Because of the space that pit bulls take up in the LHS and the amount of time it takes to place them, the LHS routinely transports other breeds to other adoption facilities in the area to provide more space.

The LHS Shelter offers free spaying and neutering to all privately owned dogs over 40 pounds, and all pits no matter the weight.

Having seen so many instances of abuse over his 25 years of breeding pits, the aforementioned anonymous breeder feels restrictions should be placed on breeding and owning pit bulls.

"I've known people to keep them [pit bulls] in a dark room their whole lives," he said. "The only person the dog ever saw was the owner. How do you expect him to act when he gets out?"

He added, "One person fed their dog gunpowder to try and make him more aggressive. All it did was kill their insides. People like to blame the dog. It's the people who own them that make them like that."

According to New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services, of the 114,942 stray dogs that were impounded in both private and government-funded shelters throughout New Jersey in 2004, 49,975 were euthanized. Michael Mullins can be reached at mmullins@hudsonreporter.com What exactly is a pit bull?

By definition, a "pit bull" is not a specific breed, but rather a term used to describe four breeds of dog with similar physical characteristics. The dogs are: the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the American Staffordshire Terrier.

A negative trend that is taking place more frequently within the dog breeding community is the cross-mixing of pit bulls with larger dogs that tend to be more aggressive.

Some breeders have been mixing their bloodlines with those of Rottweilers, which can exceed 110 lbs., and mastiffs, which can exceed 300 lbs. A pit bull should not exceed 60 lbs., according to Meredith Oliver, a Hoboken resident and pit bull advocate who moderates for the online website www.pitbullforum.com.

Both of these larger breeds are also considered to be guardian breeds, which are used to protect individuals or property, whereas the pit bull is not, according to Oliver.

"They're trying to make them bigger by mixing temperaments that are not supposed to be there," said Oliver. "It's a huge problem, and pit bulls are paying the price for it."

There are currently no laws in Hudson County that restrict or regulate the breeding of dogs. - MM Sidebar 2 Trying to ban pit bulls

In Hudson County, dogfighting incidents seem mainly confined to Jersey City, the second largest city in the state and a haven for poverty.

But according to local health officers, several dog-biting instances involving large dogs, in many cases pit bulls, have led to the attempted enactment of stiff laws in places like North Bergen and Union City.

Law enforcement officials in both municipalities maintain the right to remove a dog, even if it is fenced in, if they feel it exhibits aggressive behavior that can be dangerous to the public.

"We're not going to wait for the first bite," said Richard Censullo, the health officer for both North Bergen and Union City who also teaches health law to graduate students at New Jersey City University. "Owning a vicious dog is the equivalent of having a loaded gun."

Are pit bulls naturally dangerous, or do they get a bad rap because of their powerful jaws and the way people fight them?

Eight years ago, both North Bergen and Union City tried to enact Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) that would outlaw the ownership of pit bulls by residents in those areas.

The proposed measure was met with fierce opposition by responsible pit bull owners in the communities as well as dog association representatives who were able to defeat the proposal, arguing that it violated New Jersey State Law.

The New Jersey Vicious and Potentially Dangerous Dog Act, NJSASS 4:19-36, which was amended in 1994, explicitly prohibits breed discrimination at any level throughout the state.

Anti-pit bull legislation has also been attempted without success in West New York.

But publicly funded housing projects are exempt from that law. The federally funded housing authorities of West New York, Weehawken, and Hoboken have outlawed the ownership of any dogs exceeding 40 lbs.

"Our concern is for the safety of the children and residents of the housing authority," said West New York Housing Authority Executive Director Robert DiVincent, who is also the acting director at both the Weehawken and Hoboken housing authorities.

The only exception to this policy are dogs who were grandfathered in five years ago, before the policy was enacted. - MM
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