To see the ravaged forehead of the gentle female Pit Bull was an emotional moment for Tammy Schmitt, DVM. A section of skin three to four inches wide — the diameter of a grapefruit — was simply gone, exposing the hard bone of her skull. When Schmitt looked closely, she saw that the edges of the skin were smooth, not torn. A person with a cutting blade — not another animal — was responsible for the dog’s injuries.
“It was horrible,” Schmitt says. “I had never seen anything like it. This poor dog was obviously in a lot of pain.”
A pair of Chicago residents had discovered the dog abandoned in the streets; her torturers were never found. The kind strangers took the dog to Animal Ark, a veterinary clinic known for its partnerships with animal rescue groups. Schmitt led a team through an elaborate surgery, and the dog healed even more rapidly than expected.
Six weeks later, Faith, as she is now called, was in her new adoptive home. “This dog had every reason to be fearful of people,” says dog trainer Janice Triptow, president of Chicago Canine Rescue, the nonprofit group that arranged her adoption. “But she’s warmed up to her new family. It’s been gratifying to see.”
While it’s difficult to pinpoint an accurate number of animal abuse cases in Chicago, thousands of reports are called into the city every year. In July 2011, police seized 20 dogs in nearby Gary, Ind., and arrested four men allegedly involved in dogfighting activities. Officers at the scene described blood spatters and dogs with scars and wounds, including one with a large hole in his lip. Police also found dogfighting tools such as “break sticks,” devices used to open a dog’s jaws. Every year, this type of scenario plays out repeatedly in communities throughout Chicago and northwest Indiana. A 2007 study by the Chicago Police Department found that 68 percent of Chicago’s animal-crime offenders have also been arrested for narcotics, and 59 percent of them have been arrested for using or carrying a firearm. The numbers point to a criminal culture that, intentionally or otherwise, victimizes animals. Authorities are wise to the link between crime and animal violence: both the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department have formed task forces dedicated to deterring animal crimes.
An Ounce of Prevention
The American Counseling Association notes that the phenomenon of animal abuse often starts when children want to emulate the behavior of a parent or peer. Dogfighting rings are an obvious example. Police report that their members often invite juveniles (usually preadolescent or adolescent boys) to witness the savage fights, and when a dog loses, the boys also witness the dog’s “punishment” — shooting or some other method of death. The experience may lead young people to assume that dogs are little more than machines “built” for abuse.
The results can be devastating. In January 2010, two boys, ages 10 and 12, were arrested in Orlando and charged with cruelty to animals as part of alleged dogfighting. The boys told police they had seen dogfighting on YouTube.com and decided to try it for themselves.
In Chicago, animal advocates are working year-round to end the perception of animals as commodities rather than sentient beings. Safe Humane Chicago, an animal advocacy group sponsored by Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, has developed a program for teenagers in juvenile detention that allows them to interact with shelter dogs for 12 weeks. “We do some enrichment and training with them, and talk about proper animal care,” says volunteer Callie Cozzolino. “We usually do an agility field trip — we take them to a dog daycare where they can run the dogs through agility courses. They get to see what productive dog sports look like, rather than street stuff.”