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Happy tales for some former fighting dogs

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | 10:17 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Dozens of American pit bull terriers netted in the largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history are finding homes despite some who predicted aggression or trauma would make them unsuitable as pets.

More than 120 of the animals have been placed in foster homes or are headedg there this week through the efforts of pit bull rescue groups throughout the U.S. An additional 117, like the scarred but smiling Tulip, await their turn.

"They are not a vicious animal. They are the victims of abuse," said Debbie Hill, vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Missouri. "That face and their eyes tell the story. They only want to be in someone's home, on a couch, or sleeping at someone's feet, maybe chew up a rug or two for entertainment. They're learning for the first time how to be a dog."

In the days leading up to the July 8 raid, the Humane Society secured a cavernous industrial warehouse in St. Louis that it transformed into an emergency shelter for the hundreds of dogs seized in Missouri and Illinois. About 100 dogs seized in other states were taken by rescue groups elsewhere.

Once at the Missouri shelter, dogs were tested by a national team of certified animal behaviorists, taken on walks and allowed to chew on bowling balls stuffed with peanut butter. Some finicky eaters were treated to home-cooked chicken breasts or supplement meals of dog food.

The Humane Society offered The Associated Press first access to the site Tuesday. During the tour, puppies born since the raid took turns playing tug of war with a chew toy in a play room. Humane Society staff members pulled a catering cart down a long row of dog cages, calling animals by name as they slid them bowls of food.

Some, like Pacific, were shy, quivering in fear of new visitors. Others were extroverts, springing on hind legs to say hello.

The foster homes will acclimate the dogs to the noises and rules of a household, and teach them basic manners.

Animal behaviorist Pamela Reid, who was part of the team that evaluated the dogs, said a surprising two-thirds tested well for nonaggression and adoptability. She's fostering one puppy, although one of her favorite dogs had to be euthanized because he showed aggression toward men.

Hill said 160 dogs were put down because of injuries, illness or behavior. None of the puppies showed aggression, Reid said.

Tim Rickey, who heads the Humane Society's anti-cruelty task force, said the raids proved the underground dogfighting industry is pervasive.

"We scratched the surface," Rickey said. "We could have done several of these (raids) in Missouri alone."


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