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Such socialization can require months of effort, and even if the process proves a success, the old gladiator may never be entirely tamed. It's still unwise, experts say, to place a former fighting dog in a home with other pets or crawling children. After all, they have been bred and raised and terrorized to kill four-legged creatures. Do the math: The sort of person who would be willing to make a pet of a rehabilitated fighting dog is, by nature, an animal lover. And animal lovers tend to have pets already. The supply of suitable homes loving but petless is therefore small.
Meanwhile, the number of dogs from the raid that are fit for adoption is turning out to be much higher than expected. When the animals were seized, the Humane Society anticipated that most of them would have to be put down because of their injuries or their temperament. In fact, more than half the adult dogs and almost all the puppies are still alive nearly five months later. About 200 have been placed in private homes or in rescue programs like McBee's. But that still leaves more than 100 dogs in kennels at the warehouse.
Of course, in the midst of all this passionate effort, the animal shelters of Missouri and elsewhere continue to receive the usual sad supply of abandoned, neglected and lost pets, most of them doomed to the needle. Does it make sense, some wonder, to go to heroic lengths to save potentially violent dogs while harmless strays die hardly noticed? For that matter, how high a priority is the shortage of homes for fighting dogs in a country where options are too often scarce for the human children of abusive parents?
Hard questions. But the answers, as we grope for them, should not be clouded by misplaced blame. A number of towns across the country have passed ordinances banning pit bulls, but what are we really seeing in the bared teeth of a snarling dog? These often terrifying animals demand pity because they have had the misfortune of meeting up with the most dangerous breed of all: the human. "Pit bulls have gotten this bad reputation because of the type of people who own them," says Humane Society investigator Tim Rickey, who led the July rescue. If these muscular terriers have a flaw, their defenders maintain, it is an excess of devotion. "Their love for humans is why this breed is in trouble," says McBee. "They will take the abuse." Placed with the right companion, their devotion becomes a virtue as Helen Keller knew. One of her pets was a pit bull.
With reporting by Karen Ball / Kansas City, Mo.