By Pete Reinwald, from Chicago Tribune
Humane Society urges young pit bull owners to show their dogs love
Douglas "Peanut" Jackson can tell you: A walk around Chicago's Austin neighborhood can easily get you into a dogfight.
About a year and a half ago, Jackson would be walking his pit bull, Tiger, when he would encounter another young man with a dog. Just to see who had the tougher pit bull, they'd turn their dogs loose and let them go at it. After a few minutes, the young men would pull their dogs apart. Both dogs would bear new wounds and reopened ones created by a culture of violence.
For Tiger, the bad-dog days are over.
Last week, Tiger — with Jackson, 15, at his side — received a Canine Good Citizen certificate from the American Kennel Club for completing a rigorous dog-training program and passing a 10-point obedience test. The program is part of the Humane Society of the United States' End Dogfighting in Chicago campaign, for young people who might become involved in dogfighting.
The program is free for anybody who has a pit bull or a pit bull mix. Participants say it changes lives, canine and human.
"The program showed me that I could do better things for my dog," Jackson said. "This is what I wanted him to achieve."
The program, in its fourth year, includes about 50 participants in Chicago's West Side Austin and East Garfield Park neighborhoods and in Humboldt Park, on the Northwest Side. Officials say they plan to become more active on the South Side. The Humane Society of the United States has launched similar programs in Atlanta and Philadelphia.
. Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Last week's class at the Carroll Care Center featured 11 pit bulls.
As Jeff Jenkins, lead dog trainer for the Chicago campaign, directed one owner at a time to guide his or her dog through an obstacle course in the middle of the room, 10 other dogs sat quietly beside their owners. Dogs occasionally barked, whined or yelped but none growled.
"A lot of these guys, we know deep down that despite whatever kind of wall they put up, they have a love for dogs," Jenkins said. "They're looking to connect with that and connect with their dog in a positive way, but nobody ever taught them and gave them the tools. All of a sudden, their dog is doing jumps, sitting and staying. People start complimenting them on how their dog looks. And then you see the light bulb go off. All of a sudden, they're becoming a role model in the community."
Sean Moore, lead advocate against dogfighting for the Human Society of the United States, estimated that Chicago's West Side averages 10 pit bulls per square block.
Moore, 39, knows pit bulls and was introduced to dogfighting as a youth in the Austin neighborhood, becoming more serious about it as he got older. He said he would shoot a dog that lost him money or failed to meet his dogfighting criteria.
Back then, dogs fought under rules and regulations in organized rings, often in somebody's basement, Moore said. Thousands of dollars would change hands, depending on what dog had the deadlier bite.
"I did love these dogs," he said. "It's just that I used the love in a negative way. In our world, that's what love is. We thought these dogs were meant to fight. We need to be taught the humane education of this.
"That's why you get a lot of these killings — these young men pulling these guns — because they've never been taught the compassion part of life. You've got to feel more compassion for a human being if you can feel compassion for an animal."
Moore helps recruit participants for the Humane Society program by walking with Jenkins, the lead dog trainer for the Chicago campaign, and sometimes others from the neighborhood at his side.
"Guys will approach us," Jenkins said. "Then we'll give a demo what you can do with your dog. You get your dog to roll over, roll between your legs, jump up and land on your back."
One day, they encountered Romell Evans, who had just rescued a pit bull from neighborhood kids who had been using him for fighting.
"They came walking down my block one day, a couple of dogs with them," Evans said. "I was like, 'Man, I want to show off my dog. I've got a pretty dog,' so I found out what they were doing and I've been coming ever since."
Evans' dog, Cane, received a Good Citizen certificate last week, after almost a year in the program.
"I've got a well-trained pit bull. That just gives me some confidence," Evans said. "I feel more confident and in control when my dog listens to me."
Evans' girlfriend, Latara Shelby, participated in the program with Dino, Cane's son, who also received a certificate. Jenkins said it had been a long time since a woman completed the program.
"I don't think they should do the dogs like that," Shelby said, referring to owners engaged in dogfighting. "That's why I train mine. Now he's graduated."
Douglas Jackson and Tiger participated in the program for about a year and a half before receiving their certificate. Jackson said other young men still challenge him to dogfights.
"They try," he said. "But I turn them the opposite way." He said he tells them, "You can bring your dog to class and achieve what I achieved."