Saturday, April 02, 2011

Santa Barbara Therapy Dog Survives Fighting Ring, but Blood Sport Remains Active

by Cathy Murillo, Santa Barbara Independent

Alison Hansen with Daisy Mae
 Hell to Heaven

The story of Daisy Mae the pit bull is like that of any other survivor- she suffered pain, got back on her feet, and is now living a sweeter, more meaningful life because of her experience.

Daisy Mae, formerly part of a dogfighting operation is now a therapy dog in Santa Barbara making weekly rounds at Cottage Hospital's Pediatric Ward and Villa Riviera retirement home.  Gentle and affectionate, the three year old cuddles with the elderly and frail, and even allows small children to hold her tight when they are undergoing painful medical procedures.

Her miracle of rehabilitation mirrors that of the dogs rescued from the Michael Vick's fight farm, where only one dog had to be euthanized for being vicious.  Of the remaining 47 Vick canines, most have been placed in homes, many with children, other dogs and cats.

While Daisy Mae and the rehabilitated Vick dogs  are changing hearts and minds about the American Pit Bull Terrier,dogfighting continues to be a dark and bloody reality in the United States.  According to the national Humane Society, 99.9% of fighting dogs are Pit Bulls.  And unlike the Vick case where the football player paid rehab costs, most dogs rescued from fight rings are put down because there are no resources to rescue, evaluate, retrain and relocate the animals.

Sack of Potatoes

Daisy Mae's life these days is a stark contrast to her puppy hood.  Found on the streets of Oakland, California in 2006, she was believed to have served as a "bait" dog in a Pit Bull fighting operation.  Dogs without fighting instincts are used to bring out dominance in other dogs.

The brown and white dog was starved and emaciated at 37 pounds.  Not much else is known about Daisy Mae according to her owner, Alison Hansen, 32, a Santa Barbara wedding planning professional.  Hansen found her in a shelter affiliated with the BAD RAP organization, or Bay Area Dog lovers Responsible About Pit bulls (  The dog was extremely withdrawn and frightened, cowering against the wall.

"Something came over me.  I vowed, 'She can never have a bad day again,''" said Hansen who admits to originally wanting an athletic dog she could exercise with.  "I had wanted a Labrador experience, but what I got was a little sack of potatoes."

Daisy Mae's rehabilitation was intense but amazingly quick.  She hadn't been taken for walks or exposed to the world outside of her pen, apparently.  Whenever facing a new experience- a flight of stairs, the sound of a car horn, bicycles, cats- she would freeze up, lie flat on the ground, or pee herself.

Hansen patiently worked with the dog, who eagerly took to training as she wanted to please her new mistress.  Within 4 months, Daisy Mae had mastered all the basic obedience commands (sit, down, stay), earned a Canine Good Citizen ( certificate from the American Kennel Club (AKC), and even passed the rigorous testing developed by Therapy Dogs International ( to become a working volunteer canine (Therapy dog...  not the same as service dog.  To learn more about the differences, please read the following:

Two of the Vick dogs are therapy dogs now too.  One is Hector, who is getting national attention for his accomplishment, as he's covered with ugly scars from fighting.  Hansen believes that Hector and Daisy Mae should stand as proof that bad owners are the problem, not bad dogs.  So moved by her dog's transformation, Hansen has joined the campaign against breed-specific legislation.  "It's not fair for cities, counties or states to outlaw all pit bulls," she said.

"These laws are punishing the wrong end of the leash," Hansen said, adding that many pit bull owners don't know they shouldn't drive through Denver, Colorado with their pet.  The breed, even under the care of a nonresident travelers, is subject to being euthanized.  Closer to home, Hansen has to deal with random breed prejudice.  She tells the story of bringing Daisy Mae to a kickball game.  Although the dog was dressed in a silly Pocahontas dog costume, a frightened woman with a small dog yelled at her, "Keep your f---ing dog away from my dog!"

Joe Yuncker and Daisy Mae

Pit Bull Watch

Humane Society officials are wary of all the publicity generated by the Michael Vick pit bull matter.  Yes, many of the dogs were turned around to live happy, normal lives, but the effort cost a lot of money.  Most Pit Bulls are taken from a fighting situation and end up getting the needle.

"You don't hear so much about the abused and neglected dogs that get euthanized," said Adam Goldfarb, a pit bull expert with the Humane Society of the United States.  "Not all dogs are able to recover from traumatic circumstances."

Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, and Goldfarb's organization is active in increasing the penalties for spectators at fighting evens and for ownership of fighting dogs.  The Humane Society offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of a dog fighter.  Most busts come from anonymous tips because the industry operates underground.

"Some events are huge and charge admission.  Large amounts of money are being wagered," said Goldfarb.  Additionally, other illicit activities (such as drug use & weapons exchange) are part of the scenario.

Goldfarb is not convinced that a true fighting dog can be rehabilitated.  He described a dangerous combination of a dog that wants to kill, and also exhibits the "gameness" that unscrupulous breeders admire.  Gaminess is a trait by which a dog will continue fighting even though she is injured and exhausted.  "You can't place a dog like that in a community."

Daisy Mae hangs out with Wyatt Talor

No one knows this better than Jan Glick, head of Santa Barbara County's Animal Services department.  Her 3 shelters ( are full of pit bulls, and she is quick to point out that shelter dogs are screened for aggression against cats, dogs and an extreme prey drive (going after small wildlife etc.) and for compatibility with small children.

"Pit Bulls were bred to be aggressive against other dogs, not people," she said.  Still the public has a fear of the breed, and it's a stigma that is unwarranted in many cases.  Glick also reports that there have been no dogfighting busts in Santa Barbara County, though she believes some fighting activity does take place.  (There are more incidents of cockfighting; Sheriff's authorities raided an 800 chicken ranch 2 weeks ago.)

Glick was glad to hear about Daisy  Mae's success.  "Every dog is an individual and needs to be evaluated that way," she said.  "I encourage people not to think in a breed specific way."


Inner-City Teacher said...

Well written, and articulate. I have the pleasure of having 2 pit mixes, met Hector through a local Chicago grassroots event, and met a Vicktory dog at Best Friends in Utah.

They are an intelligent, loyal breed. You are absolutely right, "they are punishing the wrong end of the leash." It's our responsibility to get our friendly pits out there to help desensitize and educate the public.

We are the voice for those who don't have one.

Dom said...

I love my Pit and everyone else's
God help ignorant People . Safe our Pitt bull's