Rescue Me: The Debate of the Bait Dog

Jill Devine

We know this may be a little controversial, and we apologize for any bubbles we’re about to burst. As a pit bull rescue, controversial is kind of the name of our game. We’re also part of the Humane Society of the United States Dogfighting Rescue Coalition. Some of our crew members have deployed numerous times to help care for dog fighting victims as they await their court releases. Thus, we feel qualified to have an opinion on this.

Here it is: Your rescue dog with those gnarly scars probably isn’t a bait dog.

That poor dog you saw on the news with the missing lips and sawed off ears? Also, probably not a bait dog.

The dog with the really sad story you shared on Facebook who was found with deep wounds all over its body? You guessed it…probably not a bait dog.

While stories about bait dogs are a dime a dozen and we hear them every day, they’re rarely fact based. Unfortunately, the only way to confirm if a dog was used as a bait dog (which is an incredibly rare and outdated practice) is to witness it yourself or hear it directly from the dog fighter. The likelihood of a dog fighter having a bait dog, keeping that bait dog alive (including spending money on food), and that dog surviving being “bait” just isn’t reality.

A dog is often deemed a “bait dog” after being found with wounds, with no knowledge of where the dog came from or what its history might truly be.
Still don’t believe us?

“Professional and amateur dog fighters do not use ‘bait dogs’. That is a term that has been used and sensationalized by the media. Fighters will “roll” their dogs (a term used to test a dog to see if he/she has game). They will have the dog fight an established fighter to see if the dog continues even after they are exhausted and/or getting beat; this is probably where the term ‘bait dog’ came from. If the dog does not fight, quits, or does not show promise, the poor dog would be killed since they are considered a disgrace and of no value to the fighter.” –Janette Reever, Manager of Animal Fighting Response with the Humane Society of the United States

We understand how dogs easily become labeled as a bait dog. A dog is found with wounds, which incites pity out of any reasonable human. That reasonable human makes an emotion-based assumption and labels the dog as a bait dog, and thus the victim of another dog’s aggression. This assumption can also come with some surface-level benefits. For example, creating the story of a bait dog is a sure-fire way to draw in pity from supporters. Pity is a great motivator to get dogs shared on social media, and ultimately, adopted into loving homes.

This seems like a great plan, but there are some big problems associated with spreading the bait dog myth. To begin, when we create stories about our rescue dogs being victims, we subconsciously also create an antagonist, or a villain. Those villains are the dogs we rescue from dog fighting busts who, in reality, are just as much a victim (if not more) than the mythical bait dog that was found with an unknown history. Also, if we address this situation head-on, this means that your rescued dog could have just as easily been the winner of a fight, as the “bait dog” loser of the fight.

This leads to our second big problem. When dogs are adopted into homes as bait dogs, families easily make assumptions about that dog’s needs. For example, it’s easy to overlook your dog’s need for more structured training or your dog’s aggression if you’re operating in the mindset that your dog is a victim and hasn’t done anything wrong. Ultimately, this means that you are less likely to seek out training and other resources that may help you and your dog adjust to new environments and circumstances.

Want to know another scary thing about perpetuating this myth? While the use of bait dogs is rarely confirmed in professional dog fighting rings, amateur fighting rings are popping up every day. Every day men and women create money-making schemes at the expense of vulnerable dogs. And every time the media latches on to a story about a bait dog, that story is being heard by these individuals. To put it simply, quit giving horrible people ideas.

Our Even Chance alum, Garbanzo, is a great example of how our dogs with unknown histories can thrive without the “bait dog” label. Garbanzo came to us in 2014 as a survivor from a multi-state dog fighting bust. Actually, Garbanzo came from the #367 bust, which is the second largest dog fighting bust in US history. Garbanzo had facial trauma including a fractured jaw, multiple broken teeth and infections. He had scars and lacerations, was Babesia positive, and the list goes on. Because Garbanzo didn’t display any aggression, he very easily could have fit the “bait dog” label. For us to give him that label wouldn’t be fair, though. We could draw conclusions from educated guesses, but they’re just that. Guesses. Garbanzo is now living his dream life in a home with his human siblings, parents, a Dachshund brother and even a kitty sibling!

Garbanzo in his forever home:

Even Chance
This is Garbanzo in his yard and getting his initial exam during the #367 rescue:

Even Chance

 

Is your “bait dog” still a victim? ABSOLUTELY. We have no doubt that many of our dogs have endured horrible mistreatment, often at the hands of humans. However, can’t we all agree to move forward and in doing so, promote honesty about their lives and how little we often know about those histories? To do anything else is a disservice to the dog and the breed as a whole.

“Let’s stop enabling fear and speculation to overpower our collective efforts to view every dog as an individual, free from speculation, and to give every dog the chance to speak for himself.” –Animal Farm Foundation Facebook post, January 16, 2012

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