Sunday, February 22, 2009

Letter from John Goodwin


This letter was posted on a Yahoo forum. It was a response to one of the member's questions to John Goodwin, HSUS' dog fighting expert, about why HSUS supported the destruction of all of Faron's dogs in Wilkes County on Feb. 17.

Thank you for contacting us regarding a county judge's decision in North Carolina to euthanize fighting dogs seized from the property of notorious dogfighting kingpin Ed Faron. We understand your concern about the judge's order to euthanize the dogs, and it is always a tragic outcome when healthy animals meet such a fate. But the blame lies with Mr. Faron, and not with county officials or The Humane Society of the United States. While we may not endorse every action of the county, we are grateful to them for working with The HSUS to bust a man who is responsible for an enormous amount of cruelty to dogs, and to bring him to justice.

No organization has done more to attack and harm the dogfighting industry than The HSUS. We've probably invested more in combating dogfighting than all other humane groups combined, and to great effect. We are principally responsible for the strong state and federal laws that make the practice a felony and ban possession and sale of fighting animals, and we have trained thousands of law enforcement personnel on investigating and raiding fighting operations. What's more, it is our training, investigations, and rewards programs that are resulting in the arrest of countless dogfighters and the seizure of thousands of fighting dogs (which are, according to the dogfighters, an asset they lose upon seizure).

We are involved in dogfighting busts on almost a weekly basis, and the handling of Mr. Faron's dogs raises the same questions that confound us constantly. With approximately 600,000 pit bulls killed in shelters each year, why should fighting dogs, which obviously require more resources to manage and which pose an obvious threat to other animals, get placed in favor of other equally deserving pit bulls and other breeds slated for euthanasia? In a local jurisdiction that has perhaps hundreds of other pit bulls waiting for loving homes, why not save them in favor of fighting dogs that will cost far more to handle on a per dog basis? How do we solve the larger pit bull problem in the nation, since we have an epidemic of dogfighters and others breeding them for aggression and for uses other than as companions?

We conducted a long-term investigation that led to the arrest of Mr. Faron and the seizure of his fighting dogs. He is considered one of the Godfathers of dogfighting, and it was our goal to put him out of business, just as it is our goal to target other industry leaders, in order to prevent thousands of dogs for use in fighting pits. Had it not been for our investigation, most of his dogs would have suffered immensely in a fighting pit in the weeks and months ahead. And who knows how many other dogs he would have bred to face this same fate.

It is now an HSUS policy to recommend an evaluation of all fighting dogs. In this case, The HSUS offered to pay for an additional professional evaluator to assess the dogs, even though we were skeptical that these dogs could be safely rehabilitated. The county did not take us up on that offer. Without an affirmative professional evaluation to indicate that the dogs could be safely placed in a new setting, we could not recommend adoption of these dogs who had been bred for generations for their instinct to kill.

Put to sleep

While separate evaluations were not done, it is safe to say Faron's dogs have been bred to produce animals with an unstoppable desire to fight, even in the face of extreme pain and fear. Professional dogfighters typically cull the dogs that don't exhibit gameness or aggression, and only keep and breed the ones that exhibit the desired traits. For proof of that, we can refer to Faron himself, from his book about dogfighting:

"His face had only just healed from that fight with the Wreckers' dog and he got his nose chewed half off again, that night.

"The gamest dog I ever saw in my life was King David. At ten minutes, his right leg was broken. At twenty-three minutes, his left leg was broken. At thirty-seven he scratched on stumps, and at forty-eight minutes when he scratched he scratched down one wall and down the other until he got to Beau again.

"I mean, he broke muzzles, crushed skulls - we saw him bite dogs in the chest and their chest would literally collapse. That was Beau."

Game-bred dogs pose a risk to other dogs not just because of training, but more importantly because of breeding for aggressive characteristics. Even no-kill shelters typically recommend euthanasia of obviously dangerous dogs.

These fighting dogs do not compare with the dogs from amateur street fighters, who typically take any, random pit bull and try and force them to fight. If pit bulls have not been bred for generations to have a "fight crazy" instinct, even if they have been exposed to dogfighting, they have a chance of being rehabilitated. This is why a substantial number of Michael Vick's dogs were candidates for rehabilitation, after the court ordered Vick to pay $1 million as a set-aside to provide care and retraining for the dogs.

Once game-bred dogs are confiscated from a fighting situation, there are very few good options. There are no sanctuaries that exist for the thousands of game-bred dogs confiscated each year, and as a nation, there are hundreds of thousands of pit bulls awaiting adoptions in shelters every year. The resources that would be required to confine or rehabilitate fighting dogs could save many more dogs in shelters every year. So, in that sense, it is not a zero-sum game when it comes to euthanasia; it is a negative-sum game, and an inordinate focus on these few pit bulls would result in more euthanasia of other dogs. And if you impose upon rural counties - where most fighting busts occur - the burden of long-term holding of fighting pit bulls, then they may decline to intervene in criminal fighting cases, allowing the dogfighters to continue to operate.


There are tough choices to be made, and the only morally clear act is to attack the dogfighters where they live. We are the only national organization that has an entire unit devoted to this work on a national scale. That's what we'll continue to do.

So I have to wonder, is this letter the start of an HSUS ain't-our-fault spin campaign or does it paint a more truthfully nuanced picture of HSUS' stance on Pit Bulls? I find this line interesting: It is now an HSUS policy to recommend an evaluation of all fighting dogs. In this case, The HSUS offered to pay for an additional professional evaluator to assess the dogs, even though we were skeptical that these dogs could be safely rehabilitated. The county did not take us up on that offer.

This is a slight change from HSUS' recommedation on the Vick dogs given just over a year ago:

"Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country," Wayne Pacelle, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Hundreds of thousands of less-violent pit bulls, who are better candidates to be rehabilitated, are being put down. The fate of these dogs will be up to the government, but we have recommended to them, and believe, they will be eventually put down."

So, is the new updated HSUS policy something that was written in after seeing what Best Friends Animal Society, BAD RAP and others have done to successfully rehabilitate the Vick dogs and is HSUS sincere in this statement or is it a just a slip valve to relieve the mounting public pressure against HSUS' apparent lack of concern for Pit Bulls as in:

"Hey we should do an evaluation on these fuckers."

"Nah, no time. It's lunch."

"Oh yeah, right. You buying? Heh, just kidding."

I guess I'd be more tempted to believe in the sincerity of the letter regarding individual dog evaluations if Goodwin didn't have such a known, misguided hate-on for Pit Bulls.

From The Washington Post article Saving Michael Vick's Dogs:

John Goodwin, a dogfighting expert with the Humane Society and a proponent of euthanizing fight dogs, is skeptical of the emerging reports of the Vick dog recoveries. Fighting is in their blood, he said. Retrievers retrieve. Shepherds herd. And fighting pit bulls fight. "The behavior is bred into them," he said. "These groups are not rehabilitating these dogs. They're training them to behave in a more socialized manner. But these pit bulls should never be left alone with other dogs, because you never know when that instinct to fight another dog is going to surface."

John Goodwin, is of course talking about this dog:

and this dog:

and this dog on TV (Pit Bulls are such publicity sluts aren't they?).

So, I have to wonder, when Goodwin talks about vicious dogs never being able to change, is he talking about himself?

Goodwin brings up all the good things HSUS has done to confront the existence and spread of dog fighting. "We've probably invested more in combating dogfighting than all other humane groups combined, and to great effect." If that's true then good on them. No, great on them and I hope they have the funds and strength of will to continue that good work. However, they need to take that all important final step and realize that the job isn't complete until the victims are saved. That's a given. That's obvious. The Humane Society shouldn't just be an anti-human society overwhelmingly caught up in the prosecution of people. It necessarily has to be a pro-animal organization that unequivocally tries to save dogs, without hesitation, without prejudice. That means equal treatment for each and every dog.

When Goodwin releases statements such as ...

Lastly, Wilkes County euthanizes 3,000 healthy, adoptable animals a year simply because there are not enough good homes opening their doors to these needy animals. I find it disturbing that the groups clamoring for media attention over these 127 dogs raise no fuss, and offer no assistance, for the other 3,000 dogs put down in that county each year.

... he is pitting the general population of dogs against the Pit Bull. The question shouldn't be posed as what happens to the 3000 "other" dogs vs the 127 Pit Bulls, it should be, what happens to all 3127 dogs. And is Goodwin right about "the groups clamoring for media attention"? Sure. By "groups" I'm guessing he's refering to all the pro Pit Bull groups out there. Of course they're focusing their attentions on Pit Bulls. That's their purpose: to push back the media misperceptions and misrepresentations on this group of dogs. Goodwin asking why these groups don't care about the "other 3000 dogs" is akin to the usual disingenuous animal haters out there who ask why people spend so much time saving dogs when there are starving kids in Africa to help. He's trying to do a divide and conquer when he, as a big shot HSUS guy, should be trying to bring rescues together.

From the Animal Law Coalition site:

We must agree that we cannot use breed as a predictor of levels of aggression in a dog. That is simply a myth that has resulted in BSL and unwritten breed bans and death for thousands of family pets.

HSUS did recognize that any dog seized from a situation of such abuse requires time and careful evaluation before its temperament or behavior can be assessed. Wilkes County officials declined a more careful and thorough evaluation, believing the potential liability was simply too much. Dogs trained or used for fighting are deemed dangerous under North Carolina law. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 67-4.1 Many of these dogs would likely be declared dangerous regardless under most dangerous dog laws because of their history.

No one in the animal welfare community appeared at the hearing or any other time prior to that to offer to take ownership of all of the dogs or pay for their care, shelter and training. There were offers of spay/neuter, evaluation and placement assistance and some groups to their credit, did offer to take some dogs, but as helpful as that was, these offers would not address the signficant cost to the county for the care, shelter, training or rehabilitation of most of the dogs pending evaluation and placement.

And where would most be placed? Thousands of pit bull type dogs die every month in shelters because no one will adopt or even foster them. Sanctuaries are full of these dogs. People have been frightened by the myths and won't adopt them as easily as other dogs. Also, most people would not want to take on the burden of owning a dog declared "dangerous" with the liability and additional restrictions.

The county was simply not going to absorb the cost of a long term rescue, rehabilitation and placement of dogs seized from a fighter. And neither was any one or two large organizations.

It is not enough to say "don't kill the dogs".

And it is not a solution to write them off as "game bred". That is an outdated myth, and when it is repeated as in a case like this, it contributes to tragedy not only for these dogs, but also sends a message to animal control, law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and the public that pit bulls are dangerous because of breeding and should be killed.

So does this let HSUS off the hook? Is it all due to the county's lack of resources and unwillingless to risk liability that all the dogs were euthanized? On paper, perhaps, but in spirit, not quite. If HSUS believes in a level playing field for all dogs, they need to come out and say that directly and in plain English. No wishy washy sentiments about how Pits are abused and misused but yes but no but yes but can't be saved because they might one day explode and maybe probably likely can never ever be trusted blah blah blah.

HSUS needs to come out and say that Pit Bulls are dogs and need to be given the same level of care and regard as any other dog. Period.



Anonymous said...

Psychologist Donald Hebb once answered a journalist's question of "which, nature or nurture, contributes more to personality?" by asking "which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?"

We don't treat people this way. We shouldn't treat animals like this either.

Now you've got me going about William March's novel, Bad Seed, from the 1950s, in which eight year old Rhoda is a murderer. Of course, she is the daughter of a black widow serial killer. Her adoptive mother gives her a lethal dose of sleeping pills then kills herself with a revolver. However, Rhoda is rescued and, at the end of the book, she is alive and well, and no one knows her True Nature.

Figure that one out, Mr. Goodwin.

Caveat said...

Goodwin is a twit (and a convicted felon who did three years for his ALF activities).

He thinks 'Shepherds', by which I presume he means German Shepherd Dogs, herd? They were never herding dogs but have been moved from Working, where they belong, to Herding, for reasons that are unclear.

All the haters use the old, border collies herd (shhh - some don't), pointers point (well, if you're talking field lines) blah blah blah.

Except for purpose-bred dogs, which can exhibit different nuances of universal dog behaviour, most dogs, including most APBTs, SBTs and ASTs, are bred as pets and family dogs.

The HSUS just wants to get rid of dogs and thanks to the propaganda (started by ???) 'pit bulls' are perfect.

Just look at all the people getting busted for owning 'pit bulls' that are prohibited in Ontario. Basically, it's any short-haired mutt with a boxy muzzle. A perfect choice if your goal is to render dogs extinct, isn't it?

The HSUS likes to brag about its anti-dogfighting program. Right. Most of the people they accuse and whose dogs they kill en masse end up being exonerated in court. They don't tell you that part though.

Either way, they win. The dogs are dead, they walk away, put out for more money and it comes pouring in.

We don't need no stinkin' convictions.

borderjack said...

"At ten minutes, his right leg was broken. At twenty-three minutes, his left leg was broken. At thirty-seven he scratched on stumps, and at forty-eight minutes..."

I'm shocked to read how long these fights last!???!???! redstar, you're right - ignorance is bliss. Not that it would be okay, but I would've guessed the fights to last only a few minutes. Almost an hour??? I need a handgun and some time alone with this trashbag Faron.

Fred said...

There are a multitude of Farons out there unfortunately. Dog fighters are estimated at tens of thousands in the States (most of them street corner skanks) and orders of magnitude more and increasing in places like East Europe where they'll probably be broadcasting dog fights on TV soon. Proponents of dog fighting compare it to professional boxing, etc. which is like comparing slavery to salaried work but it shows you their mentality. They don't think they're doing anything wrong.

Have a listen to this if you get a chance. It's of an NFL player defending Vick and dog fighting. As an added bonus, you'll also hear Goodwin trying to play the part of the hero.