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August 3, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

End Dofighting in Atlanta makes great strides this summer

The Humane Society of the United States

  • "Tank" is one of the pit bull students of Atlanta's End Dogfighting program. Jeff Jenkins/The HSUS

By Laurie Maxwell

They don't call it "Hot-lanta" for nothing. So, on July 18, people and pit bulls of Atlanta's Decatur community came together to cool off at End Dogfighting in Atlanta's community event, Dog Days of Summer.

Pit bulls and their people gathered under the shaded tents outside the New Life Community Center. As pit bulls cooled down by splashing around in kiddie pools, their people munched on snacks, socialized, and listened to HSUS representatives deliver their anti-dogfighting message.

Showing off Their Skills

The social event was part of The HSUS' End Dogfighting Campaign, which centers on its popular, free pit-bull training classes held weekly at the center.

As part of the Pit Bull Training Team, class members showed off the skills they've gained during their 15 weeks of classes. Only too eager to please, pit bulls enthusiastically leapt over A-frame jumps and tore through the obstacle course as their owners cheered them on.

First prize in the Funniest Pet Trick contest went to Tim Freeman's pit bull, Blue Boy. The crowd went wild when Freeman had Blue Boy "speak," "sit up and look pretty," and—as a finale—fetch money out of the hands of an audience member ("get money").

Second-prize winner Boomer, owned by Bryant Whitfield, was another show stopper. Boomer showed the audience the sillier side of pit bulls by sitting up in a chair and sporting a stylish pair of sunglasses.

Shedding Light on a Serious Subject

The mood turned serious when Elisabeth Gambill-Niksich took to the stage. As the representative of The HSUS' End Dogfighting in Atlanta program, she spoke about the dangers of dogfighting and the negative effects it has on communities.

"Dogfighting not only hurts dogs, but it exposes and desensitizes young people to violence," said Gambill-Niksich. "It's our responsibility as a community to stand up against this cruelty."

The message of the day went beyond opposing dogfighting to promoting responsible ownership. This was especially relevant in light of a recent tragedy in which a young dog in the neighborhood died after overheating inside a locked car. Volunteers warned attendees about the dangers of leaving dogs inside hot cars, as well as other potential threats to a dog's welfare.

"The campaign is not just about stopping dogfighting, but educating the public on what it means to be a responsible dog owner," said Gambill-Niksich. "We do that through our classes, outreach, and events like this."

Laurie Maxwell is deputy manager of animal cruelty and fighting issues for The Humane Society of the United States.

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