Dogfight Club

Brown Dog vs. White Dog for the macho championship of South Florida

"I'll meet you on the Boardwalk and 24th Street at 8:40 p.m. -- I promise."

But it didn't happen anything like that. Word around the campfire that night was that Gene had smoked all his weed and disappeared amid rumors of impending arrest for domestic violence and a bench warrant for jumping $10,000 bail on another little beef. He exactly fit the stereotype of the people generally associated with dogfighting -- shifty, dope-dealing, wife-beating, possibly wanted, and usually a felon, or close to it.

Some weeks later -- With Gene gone, things were looking bleak. That first potential editor was chewing on my ass about once a week via phone or e-mail. I was feeling disgusted. Luckily I was talking to a friend of mine, "Cas," a white, Cuban guy just a little bit younger than I am. We met through "legitimate channels" rather than "on the Beach" -- which is the way I refer to areas of dicey contact and experience I use mostly in my novel writing.... We hit it off pretty well and became friends. I don't even know why I was talking about this thing in front of him. Frustration, I guess. When I mentioned my problem, Cas didn't hesitate to help.

"Hey, I can get you in!" he said. "My brother and I have been in that circle for a few years now."

Cas's offer seemed a hell of a lot less sketchy than my previous attempt. And as he said he would, he took me to a fight in Homestead a few weekends later. He called me the day before:

"Meet us at the corner of Española Way and Collins tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.," he said.

"Okay. How much money should I bring?" I asked.

"Bring at least $200. If you want to gamble, then you do not want to look like a pussy in front of these people," he said.

"See you tomorrow at 7," I said, and hung up.

2. Fight

I was standing on the corner at 6:50 p.m. the next evening when a truck rolled up. Cas and his brother "Tat" were the only ones inside, except for the main-event figure. Cas opened the door and motioned me in. The caged dog in the back didn't look very happy. We headed for Homestead.

Once we got near, we pulled up next to a fenced area. Inside was an edifice that looked to be a bar. It was pavilion-like, open air. We parked to the right, inside the fence. There were only about eight other cars and trucks. Tat brought the dog out of his cage and put him on a leash. We walked around the bar along a path that led to another building. Before that one, there was more fencing and a gate. Then I saw them. Along the path were eight pit bulls chained and weighted to car axles that were buried in the ground.

"What the hell is this about?" I asked.

"This owner chains the dogs to car axles and weights them so that every time they move they are working. It also keeps them in a certain area so they can't fight with each other, because they will if they can," said Cas.

We came to what looked to be a storage shed. There was an old man. He was worn and weathered and sitting in a chair at the door, sipping a Budweiser. He greeted Tat.

"¿Estamos listos?" he asked. (Are we ready?)

Tat nodded and the old man opened the door for us. I noticed that he was looking closely at me, but Cas waved him off and the old man relaxed. Inside the building was the pit. They had brought bleachers to set up for better viewing. The pit was about fifteen or eighteen feet wide with walls about three feet high. The floor was covered with carpet.

"What's with that?" I asked Cas.

"Easier and quicker cleanup," he said. Wait 'til you see the mess."

"Can't wait," I replied.

The owner of the opposing dog was already there. He was waiting to wash "Vader," Tat's dog (to make sure no blinding or debilitating substances had been smeared on his coat). Once inside, Tat picked up the dog and held him in his arms like a baby. He put him down and held him as the other guy rolled up his sleeves -- to show that he had no trick substances stashed -- and began to wash Vader with warm, soapy water. The dog held still. He had been trained to hold just like show dogs are to let judges inspect them. After the washing, Cas picked up Vader and took him outside the pit area. Then the opposing dog was brought in to be washed by Tat. The dogs have to be brought in separately in order to avoid a spontaneous fight. When both were washed, they were weighed, once again at separate times. The scales they use are made for "Pulling Pits." That is, pit bulls trained for pulling competitions in the same way that weightlifters train. The dogs, according to their body weight, pull a series of weights in order to see which one is strongest. Pulling competitions are perfectly legal. Pulling pit bulls are much larger than fighting pit bulls. Dogmen, however, use these special scales to weigh in for a fight. The scales sort of look like grocery produce scales. The owner slips a harness beneath the dog's legs and it hangs freely. A 50-pound weight is used to balance the scale. Vader tipped in at 37 pounds.

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