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Do your part, for the animals' sake

October 06, 2007|By DEE MAYBERRY

The beginning of professional football season was marred by news stories of National Football League player Michael Vick's involvement in the horrors of illegal dog fighting. Admitting his kennel ownership role, Vick also confessed to personal activity in a particularly disgusting form of animal cruelty.

Some in the media, noting that the Vick fighting dog operation is located in Virginia, label the practice "cultural" with no small hint that paying money to watch dogs tear each other apart is a rural and probably southern form of sport.

The publicity stimulated research regarding Maryland. An interview was scheduled with Paul Miller, Director of the Washington County Humane Society and responsible for animal control in this community.

Miller's career has taken him from West coast to East. He is familiar with multi-breed city street fighting as well as highly organized pit bull enterprises.

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First question to Miller: Is Maryland free from professional or pick-up dog fighting? No, Miller says, adding that fighting takes place in both urban and rural areas (some of it less about gambling than entertainment).

Gory, 10-minute events are set up in alleyways by amateurs gathering to watch "my bad dog tear up yours." There may be a bet or two, but animal violence is the attraction in this setting.

Further up the scale is the organizer who traffics in pit bulls, but lacks breeding expertise. He may believe dogs can be trained to fight.

At the top of the dirty pyramid are breeders, of the Michael Vick stripe, who develop dogs expected to kill anything that moves. Focusing on an aggressive breed such as the pit bull, they destroy animals showing any submissive tendency.

Dogs kept for high-dollar betting are used in hour-long events and fight to the death. All three types of activity exist in Maryland.

Investigation of animal abuse takes an unexpected turn down a very different road following an interview with long-time Washington County domestic and wildlife advocate, Angie Harsh. She points to local dog theft, speaking of pets stolen for fighting, breeding or sale to laboratories for experimentation.

She speaks of small dogs and cats used as practice animals for fighting dogs, and expresses special indignation about legal laboratory tests pushed by the cosmetics and other industries.

As an example of unnecessary cruelty, Harsh describes rabbits with flesh burned, dying in agony after forced shampoo feeding. Along with other species, she explains, rabbits cannot vomit up caustic material.

Owners who have had pets stolen out of locked cars on public parking lots and out of fenced country yards share her sentiments. Such thieves travel Interstate 81 in and out of Maryland.

It is noted that neither Harsh nor Miller endorses animal activism by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This group, Harsh says, "goes too far."

Local residents may not be able to do much about multi-million dollar animal trafficking, but they can make a dent in commercial inhumanity along with destruction of healthy pet-quality dogs and cats.

First, they can keep close watch on their pets - never let them run free, never leave them unattended in a car, have them equipped with a locator chip, never sell or give away unwanted puppies or kittens to strangers.

One veterinarian advises: If you love your pet, treat it as thoughtfully as you treat your children. Miller says that if you want to buy a pet for less than what is charged by a breeder or animal shop, check out the often-handsome, always pre-assessed cats and dogs kept for five business days at the local Humane Society facility.

You will pay $100 for a pet that has had its vaccinations, been wormed, fitted with a locator chip, spayed or neutered and evaluated for suitability in your home. If $100 exceeds your ability to pay, some help may be available.

It is known that overcrowding even in well-run shelters, can result in euthanasia of healthy animals. In part, crowding comes when too many owners dump "inconvenient pets" along Washington County roadways. Both Harsh and Miller work hard to encourage people to adopt shelter animals. Too few respond.

Miller suggests that perhaps families securing a pet pal for a child or lonely adult "think our shelter animals may be ugly, mean or undesirable in some way." He appeals: "We have some beautiful dogs and cats, capable of bringing happiness to adoptive owners." Miller is correct.

Is it not a pleasant thought that, amid all the horror stories, this is at least one way to strike a blow for joy and maybe save a yearning creature as an added bonus?

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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