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January 12, 2010

Overcrowding in the City

End Dogfighting in Chicago combats pit bull overpopulation

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Terrence gave Elmo a kiss before sending him off to surgery. Laurie Maxwell/HSUS

  • Terrence and Elmo waited patiently in the clinic's waiting room before his surgery. Laurie Maxwell/HSUS

  • Cloud came into the clinic after being rescued from a bad situation. Laurie Maxwell/HSUS

by Laurie Maxwell

"You guys are breeding these dogs faster than I can train them," said Jeff Jenkins, lead trainer for The HSUS' End Dogfighting campaign during a Pit Bull Training Team (PBTT) class. "Spaying and neutering your dog is the responsible thing to do."

Jenkins' classes offer alternatives to dogfighting and promote responsible dog ownership. Happily, most of Jenkins' students—mostly young men from Chicago's roughest neighborhoods—have stopped fighting their dogs.

Pit bull overflow

But the pit bull problem doesn't end there. Almost every week, somebody walks into the PBTT classes with an armful of puppies.

To these young men, breeding dogs goes hand in hand with owning them, and the topic of sterilizing your dog is foreign and uncomfortable to this crowd. But Jenkins explains the consequences of backyard breeding.

"The market for pit bull puppies is flooded. You may know someone who will take your dog's puppies, but what about their puppies' puppies?" asks Jenkins. "Most likely, they'll end up homeless, hit by a car, fought, or euthanized."

Our Anti-Dogfighting Advocates helped put these words into action. They spent weeks beating the pavement and selling the benefits of spay/neuter.

On one snowy December morning, they loaded up vans with students and dogs and drove them to PAWS Chicago's Lurie Family Spay/Neuter Clinic. Since the clinic's inception in 1997, Chicago's animal shelters have seen a 50% drop in euthanasia rates.

Elmo and Terrence

One client this day is Elmo, a 7-month-old pit owned by Terrence. Only 13 years old, Terrence once fought dogs before joining the PBTT. In a remarkable turnaround, Terrence and Elmo earned their Canine Good Citizenship certification just a week earlier, via the PBTT. Still glowing with pride, Terrence showed off Elmo's PBTT tricks in the waiting room.

Elmo's name was finally called. In the exam room, PAWS' head veterinarian offered Terrence her stethoscope to listen to Elmo's heartbeat. "It's beating fast!" Terrence exclaimed. The doctor explained it was because Elmo was in a new place with new smells and people.

Before leaving, Terrence bent down and kissed Elmo, telling him he'd be back soon.

The payoff

At 4 p.m., anxious owners began lining up to retrieve their dogs. Everyone watched a short video on the surgery recovery process before receiving their dogs—newly sterilized, vaccinated, and microchipped.  

The waiting room was filled with doggie gift boxes stuffed with treats, toys, brushes, and more. Terrence's eyes widened, as he carefully picked out the best gift box for Elmo. Their reunion was full of kisses and tail wagging.

"These are the young guys we need to reach before they go too far down the wrong path," commented Anti-Dogfighting Advocate Sean Moore, a former dogfighter himself. "Terrence is a shining example of what this program can do. Bringing Elmo here today was a huge step for him."

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