By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
I could see the old man letting people in. They were hell on checking guns at the door. Nobody entered with a piece. There are such large amounts of cash around that it has to be that way. The old man was collecting an admission fee of $50 from each spectator. I had slipped in free because I'd come to the fight as a friend of the "kennel." The term means the physical place for breeding, raising, and training the dogs as well as "the circle" of dogfighters. There was a brief lapse as Tat and the rival owner produced their share of the purse -- $5000 each. They gave the money to the "referee" and his people. The referee must be agreed upon by both owners. He is generally a well-respected dogman. The ref earns $100 for the match and usually receives a tip from the winning kennel. But referees do it for their reputations more than the money.
Tat was fighting Vader for his reputation andfor the money. He is a former U.S. Olympic Team alternate in judo, and a third-degree judo black belt. From his demeanor, about the best way to describe him would be: "If you're going to do something, do it right." His dog had been in the "keep" for fifteen weeks prior to the match. It seemed like a safe bet, and besides, it would have been impolite to take the other side. For gambling purposes, Vader would simply be referred to as "Brown Dog" because of his brindle coloring. His opponent would just be faded as "White Dog."
The training required for a dogfight could be compared to the training boxers go through. There is a regimented program, a performance-enhancing diet, a daily workout, and health items such as vitamin B12. Training a pit bull to fight is more about conditioning than either strength or blood lust. In that regard, most dogmen run their dogs every day on a "treadmill." That is, the dog is running in a sort of cage, but he is chasing after a live animal, a raccoon, say, which doesn't fear him -- also in a cage and on another treadmill just ahead of him. A proper "keep" will involve daily rubdowns for the dog; extreme hygiene of the ears, nose, and feet; constant examination of the stool; the monitoring of protein levels; and the regulation of salt intake (for blood coagulation).
The idea that one only wants to make the dog "mean" is exaggerated in the professional class. (Streetfighters, on the other hand, have been known to stick cocaine in their dogs' noses and jalapeño peppers up their asses.) But these men do view their dogs as commodities and nothing more. As Don Mayfield (formerly one of the premier dogmen in the U.S.) said to me: "Gamedog people breed dogs not to be their best friend, but to be what they are bred for. Just like one would breed a bird dog to hunt birds, but not to be a house pet and best friend." The truth is that dogmen view their dogs and kennels on about the same level as horse people view racehorses. When you are dealing with a good dog that might fetch $30,000 per year in fighting purses and from $5000 to $10,000 to breed, and, rarely, $20,000 to $30,000 to sell, then that's a commodity. These dogs have to be treated like children, with the express idea that each might die in the next match. Dogmen understand that, and so reserve the right to "pick up" their dogs at any match. That means the owner can stop the fight and forfeit, just like a boxer's manager "throwing in the towel." It's for this reason that fatalities are rare in pit bull wars. That is not to say that dogs don't die, or get killed, sometimes by their owners, after losing a fight.
You have to examine to what degree the dogs are inbred in order to understand why an owner might kill a fighter like that. If five pups are born, two might be bigger, stronger, and meaner, but the other three can be mentally or physically deficient. While the physical differences are easy to see, the mental deficiencies may only show following a loss -- cringing, listlessness, whimpering. Then it's either kill your investment, or lose more money ...
The best way to kill a dog in these circumstances is to put a high-caliber cap in its brain, or else stab it from the back at the base of the skull. Dogfighting isn't croquet.
The spectators were now starting to assemble and gamble. This, again, was half of why I'd come. The betting was even money. There were no odds. I watched how the bets were placed and I gave my action:
"I got two hundred on Brown Dog! Who can cover?"
A fellow yelled: "I got your two!"
So we had a bet. I felt at home. Organized violence does not bother me. The majority of the spectators were white Cubans. But over in the corner was a white man from Georgia sitting in a wheelchair, taking notes. He had come to see Vader. A lot of people said he was from Sporting Dog Journal, but neither Cas nor Tat ever confirmed it. Most of the spectators were dressed like normal people in jeans or slacks and collared shirts. The cross section was mostly urban Latino with a smattering of Anglo spectators like the Georgia man.