TEXT BY HEATHER DOWDY
PHOTOS COURTESY AMIEE STUBBS FOR ANIMAL RESCUE CORPS
UPDATE AS OF 12/16/12: About half of these dogs have now been placed into foster care. Some dogs were placed with local groups such as Agape Animal Rescue, Nashville PITTIE and New Leash On Life, while others have been transported to dedicate pit bull rescues across the country. Sweet Honor, the dog I write about in this article, has been placed along with Harpo at Mayday Pit Bull Rescue in Arizona... see a video of their arrival here. The rest of the dogs are still being cared for at the emergency ARC shelter in Lebanon and are awaiting foster placement, More updates to come!
On Black Friday, Animal Rescue Corps (ARC) received an urgent call from Cheatham County Animal Control. During a brush fire on a wooded property, firefighters came across a troubling surprise: that the blaze was rushing toward more than 60 chained and penned dogs.
Uncovering this suspected dog fighting ring was somewhat ironic. Says ARC founder Scotlund Haisley, "The fire that almost killed them has actually saved their lives."
That's because within less than 24 hours of being notified about the dire situation, Washington D.C. based ARC was on the ground in Tennessee, ready to break the chains of suffering and to give 65 abused dogs their freedom.
About the Rescue
On Thanksgiving night, the Ashland City Fire Department and Pleasant View Volunteer Fire Department responded to a brush fire at the residence. Their discovery of a large number of dogs chained behind the property prompted them to call Cheatham County Animal Control (CCAC). Upon arrival, CCAC Director TJ Jordi (who you'll recognize as one of our 2013 Humane Awards winners in our holiday issue) identified the situation as a suspected dog fighting and breeding operation.
Most all the dogs -- mostly pit bulls and a few beagles -- were found to be emaciated, wounded, and neglected, with no access to water or food. What water did remain in buckets or bowls was frozen solid. Many of the dogs bear fight scars across their faces and front legs, and two females have had their teeth removed -- most likely so they could not fight back during forced breeding.
Pictured above: This gentle female pit bull has had all of her teeth removed, most likely so she could not fight back during forced breeding in a "rape cage". ARC volunteers named her Honor for her quiet, broken spirit and yet her readiness to trust and love immediately. As you can see, she eagerly offered kisses to CCAC Director TJ Jordi when he came to her rescue, and she is eager to snuggle and kiss all the volunteers at the emergency shelter.
While no dogs were harmed in the brush fire, remains of other dogs were recovered during the investigation. Meanwhile, CCAC workers identified dog-fighting paraphernalia on the property, including a treadmill, fighting pen and a spring pole, indicating a long history of animal abuse.
TJ Jordi knew exactly who to call. As a volunteer rescuer with ARC for over a year, he made the call to ARC president Scotlund Haisley. "Our county simply does not have the resources or space to deal with this many animals," he says. "We needed help."
And that is exactly why ARC was founded: to bridge the gap in resources when large-scale rescues are needed in rural areas and small towns. In less than 24 hours, ARC was on the ground in Tennessee to launch Operation Broken Chains.
"The property terrain was treacherous," says ARC's TN State Liaison Peg Petrelli. "It was very rocky and harsh out there. It made for a very difficult rescue, but we got 100% of the dogs to safety."
All the animals were surrendered to CCAC and relocated to an emergency shelter in Lebanon. Their daily care and medical needs will be met by ARC until they can be assessed for placement and transported to placement partners around the country, as well as through trusted local rescue groups right here in Middle Tennessee.
As of today, November 28, 2012, all evidence has been collected from the scene and has been turned over to the District Attorney's office. Federal officials are also investigating the case since dog fighting is considered a federal felony.
We will provide details on the case as they become available.
A Personal Account of Operation Broken Chains
As many of you know, I have been a rescuer with ARC since their first rescue operation at a puppy mill in Warren County, TN. After spending time with these dogs, I am more empowered than ever to put an end to animal cruelty and specifically to the abuse and misunderstanding of pit bull breeds.
To anyone who believes that there is anything inherently "vicious" or "unpredictable" about a pit bull, I would invite them to take inventory of the situation we have on our hands. If any dog has the right to be aggressive, mistrusting or unpredictable, it would be these dogs who have suffered torture at the hands of their greedy and unfathomably cruel owners. They have been forced to breed and fight against their wills; they have been broken and abused time and time again; and then, finally, seemingly left to starve to death among rocks and dirt on logging chains easily twice their own weight.
And yet, these pit bulls have been just as predictable as any pit bulls I have ever met: each one of them -- with their scars and open wounds, with their broken bodies and spirits -- greeted their rescuers with grateful kisses, hopeful tail wags and amazing trust. Some wanted to play, some wanted to snuggle, and even those who lie so beaten and crushed placed their heads into the palms of their rescuers, simply ready to be set free of the horrors they had known for far too long.
I hope this story travels far and wide, across all sorts of media. I hope that with each story about a dog fighting rescue that the public starts to understand that pit bulls are not dangerous, but the criminals who abuse them are. I hope that people start to see that even pit bulls who have been forced and bred to "be mean" are not, in the end, ever "mean" -- but are instead amazingly loving, loyal, affectionate and gentle despite their every reason not to be so. If only humans could learn to love and forgive as unconditionally as every abused pit bull I have ever known, our world would begin to heal from its age-old wounds and wars.
As a volunteer spending time with these pitties in the emergency shelter, you simply cannot find any shred of evidence to support the long-running media circus which has perpetuated the stereotype of the pit bull as a menace to society. These are the dogs that so many of us -- myself included -- cherish as beloved members of our family. These are the dogs once termed "nanny dogs" because of their good natures with children. I am thankful to our local media in Nashville, TN for so heavily covering this rescue operation and for shining a true light on these dogs and their suffering.
Honor, the toothless dog pictured toward the top of this story, especially grabbed my heart upon meeting her. Shy and sweet, she gently wagged her tail and nuzzled into me as I sat down next to her, offering my hand. She laid her squishy, toothless muzzle in my palm and closed her eyes as I spoke to her softly and stroked her beautiful face.
When she opened her eyes, she looked me square in my own eyes, holding my gaze, as if to tell me her story -- one soul to another. I whispered to her my apologies for what humans have done to her and promised that from now on, humans would show her nothing but love and kindness. But then again, she already believed that. She already trusted me, and loved me in return.
In a few moments, I offered her some peanut butter inside a rubbery Kong bone. At first hesitant to the gooey texture, she finally discovered the wonderful taste -- and the game was on! Honor's entire body relaxed as she began smacking the soft toy in her toothless gums, reveling in the joy of the moment. I will carry that tender and beautiful moment with me, as so many other moments stored deep inside my heart. Animals have a way of teaching us about living and simply being; and these lessons have in large part made me who I am today. I am grateful for Honor's lesson.
And yet, Honor is no exception in this shelter of animal victims. As I worked my way from kennel to kennel, offering water and peanut butter Kong toys, each could not wait for their turn to be snuggled and to give me kisses. Each bore his or her own story and scars. Some were excitable and happy, some terribly shy and others seemed to be simply soul crushed, but all of them were gentle, trusting and hungry for affection.
And this is why I will never stop fighting for the humane treatment and true public understanding of pit bulls. They are voiceless; we must be their voice. Thanks to organizations such as ARC, their plight is finally reaching the masses, but only together can we save them from this sort of cruelty. Only by all of us working together will they once again become America's cherished family dogs, at last safe and loved as they deserve to be.
Spirit and body broken, one of the more shy pit bulls sat hunched in fear and suffering at the end of her chain. Today, she is learning that humans can also provide a loving touch, clean water, nourishing food and gentle love. And, one day soon, she'll learn the joys of being a beloved member of a family!
How to Help this Rescue Effort
Because ARC responded so quickly to this urgent situation, the organization did not have time to request financial assistance from its usual grantors. Therefore, ARC went into this rescue without the funding needed for it. Whether you can donate $5 or $500, your donation will help fund the costs of this rescue and for the vast medical and rehabilitation care required to get them ready for foster homes and, eventually, loving forever homes! Please consider giving a gift of compassion to these dogs in need... please click here to donate today.
Video and Photo Gallery Links
ARC Rescue Photo Gallery
ARC Rescue Video
News 5 Interview with ARC President Scotlund Haisley
Coming Soon In Print
Be sure to keep an eye out for the February 2013 issue of Nashville Paw magazine... we'll be running a feature on this rescue, updates on the dogs, and might even feature one of these special dogs on our cover!
Assistance from our Nashville Paw Foundation
As these dogs gain their health and strength, our Nashville Paw Foundation is incredibly happy to be able to donate $1,500.00 to help with their spay and neuter surgeries, thanks to funds raised at our annual Art for Animals fundraiser.
ARC president Scotlund Haisley receives a thankful kiss from one of the pit bulls rescued from the suspected fighting ring.