Scum dog owners

The Panorama program
dog fighting undercover
which was broadcast in summer 2007 was one of those programs that I will never forget. Do you ever watch something that you know you’re going to really find disturbing, but you are fascinated and watch it anyway and then wish you didn’t? That was one of those programs.
This week, a series called Lawless Ireland on TV3 revisited the subject of dog fights, and reminded me of just how sickening and brutal this really is. If you are very sensitive, maybe you should stop reading this right now.

Dog fighting is a very secretive and barbaric blood sport. The dogs used are specially bred and conditioned to fight. Pit bull terriers are the most common breed. The fighting gangs use small dogs and cats as bate to train or ‘blood’ the fighting dogs. These can be strays, stolen family pets or kittens or puppies obtained through ‘free to good home’ newspaper ads. The terrified creatures have their legs tied together before being tossed to the dogs. Cats are also dangled from pieces of string to tease the fighting dogs. The dogs are encouraged to savage them and slowly hack them to pieces. They cannot be walked or exercised in public, so treadmills are used to make them run and strengthen their muscles.

Contests are organised in remote areas in converted barns or sheds, away from the public eye. At each fighting session, the animals are paired off against each other in a small pit or arena, enclosed by plywood or galvanised walls. Matches are governed by a strict set of rules. There are 19 in all and each offers a unique insight into how underground fights are conducted. A fight can last more than two hours and the contest ends only when one of the dogs is no longer able or willing to continue.

“STEVE: The dogs clash like a steam train hitting the wall. You can hear it, you can hear the bone crunching. The heavier the dog, the more the crash; a really significant noise of bone on bone. The sounds are quite graphic, you can hear teeth on teeth as the dogs are chewing at each other’s mouths and gums and lips. And if the dogs go onto the legs, you can hear teeth crunch on bones and rubbing off bones into the skin, ripping sounds. You know that once you hear the sound, within seconds you’ll see the blood.”

The competing dogs suffer horrific often fatal injuries. American pit bulls have powerful jaws that inflict severe bruising, deep puncture wounds and broken bones. These dogs cannot be taken to a regular vet, because their owners would more than likely be reported. Instead the owners do a DIY job themselves, often using stables to stitch their war wounds together. Many fighting dogs die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or
Infection after contests. Sometimes, if they are just barely alive after a fight, they are killed by their owners with a severe electric shock.
Like other forms of cruelty to animals, this nightmarish practice thrives on
Silence. Dog fighters depend on friends and relatives who know of their activities to keep their mouths shut, out of loyalty or fear.

I know there is so much child abuse and cruelty to humans in the world, but hearing about organised fights like these make me feel just as angry and disgusted. When I was watching the report on dog fighting on TV3, OJ got up from his bed in the corner of the kitchen and came over to me. He put his head on my knee to get petted for about a minute, and then lay down in his bed again. He just wanted a quick cuddle and to make sure that I didn’t forget he was in the room. Possibly this so called sport is harder to comprehend because I am a guide dog owner. Lots of time, hard work and effort is put into training dogs like OJ to improve the lives of their owners, but these dogs are trained to destroy. It is true that some of these breeds have fighting tendencies, but they are encouraged to be aggressive, giving all dogs of a particular breed a bad reputation. German shepherds for example are often viewed as aggressive, even though they are intelligent and can make excellent guide dogs.
5 year old Ellie Lawrenson was the first child in Britain to be killed by a pit bull terrier, and she probably won’t be the last. The criminals involved in dog fighting are too interested in drugs, money and owning the most vicious dog to care about the lives of other people.

You have probably read enough already, but to get a better understanding of how sick this really is, it is worth reading
the transcript of dog fighting undercover.

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight
it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Blog Watch

Irish blog awards category intros

Darragh, Darren and others put lots of hard work and effort into making these videos for the 2009 blog awards. Great idea and well done!

Oscar Focus

Darren Byrne’s impressive history of the best original song category at the Oscars.

If you are interested in autism, and the families and people it affects, here are some blogs you might like. There are just too many to mention, but each one below has some great links.

The family Voyage, living with autism in Northern Ireland

Amy’s Short Stories

These are so cute!

Mother of Shreck

And of course, the award-winning post:

k8 the gr8’s the secret fire

Other links:

Reina at the Verbal Arts Centre

a link to a nice article Reina, an American student who did a work placement with us last year wrote. OJ gets an honourable mention! I think he really missed her when she left.

The virtual haircut

If you haven’t heard it yet check it out. Listen on headphones.

Our trip to Cork

We left just after 6 on thursday. It was a bit strange grooming OJ outside so early in the morning, but we missed a lot of traffic so it was worth it. We stopped at the horse in Boyle. OJ has seen it a few times now but still loves to run and bark at it. We stopped at some shops before we went to meet his puppy walkers in Tralee.
I wasn’t sure how OJ would react, but he got very excited when I took him out of the jeep at their house. They live in a lovely area, with a river running outside that you can hear from the garden. Maybe this good start explains why OJ is always so happy.
They have a lovely golden lab who OJ probably played with and tortured when he was a pup. There are photos of each of the dogs that they have looked after in their house. OJ ran around the kitchen and whined a lot, which i’ve never seen him doing before. He seemed happy to be back and his puppywalkers were happy to see him too. It was nice to have the chance to ask them questions and find out why they wanted to look after puppies. It was good to see where OJ lived before he went to Cork and was matched with me. They said he hasn’t changed too much, apart from the fact that his legs are longer! He never liked walking in puddles when he was a pup and I told him he’s still the same now.
OJ got a walk in his old garden, and we took some photos before we left. I’m really glad we stopped there, and I think OJ was too. If it wasn’t for the puppy walkers we wouldn’t have guide dogs, so its probably nice for them to see their pups all grown up and working as guide dogs.

It was nice to see the guide dog centre again too. There have been some changes since I left 18 months ago. Members of staff have left and new members have joined. There is a lot of construction going on there, so the dog runs and grooming room have changed location. It was fine when I learned where they were. Two guide dog owners were doing the cookery class there. I have spoken to Sabrina on the mailing list before, and her dog Ella is so quiet and lovely. Gerry’s dog Orva is OJ’s sister, and I don’t know if they remembered each other but they definitely liked each other! I sat talking to them for a while when we came back from dinner in Tracys pub.

Its great staying at the centre because there’s a dog bed, bowls and a spending area there for the dog so everything is organised. OJ hasn’t stayed in the same room as me much since we left so I was woken up with a kong in my face early the next morning.
It was lovely to see the staff and trainers again on Friday morning, and as usual we were well looked after. I interviewed two trainers and the kennel staff for my documentary. I couldn’t really walk around in the kennels to record but you can hear some dogs in the background. The design of the new kennels allows the dogs to see one another, so their stress levels are lowered and they don’t bark much anymore. The staff there are great craic and I have a very funny unedited interview to send them. They had some lovely mixes of dogs there that I hadn’t seen before at the centre, and it was interesting to hear how different things will be when the plans for the new building are completed. The new renovations will mean bigger classes and more people coming in and out of the centre. The centre in Cork is the only one in Ireland, so the quality of the services provided depend on how well it is run. I really should visit more often. Its not so easy when your at the opposite end of the country, but when you start the journey it isn’t too bad. When you go back there it feels like you were never away, and I think it would be a really great place to work in. I have a wedding in Kinsale in September, so might call in then if I don’t go before that. I need to do the cookery course, and the leisure classes sound like fun. OJ might be back there sooner than he thinks, but not to stay of course!

Currently reading: ‘the curious incident of the dog in the night-time’ by Mark Hadden.
(I read most of it in the car on the way to and from Cork.)

Older, not wiser!

I just got my first “happy birthday” text from my friend Julie in Dublin. Its my birthday tomorrow and i’ve got the rest of the week off work. I’m sitting here trying to remember the good things that have happened during the last year, and all the birthday’s i’ve had with my friends since I was small. If I started writing about them i’d be here all night. My family always made an effort to make all of our birthdays special, and they still do now. My brother will probably phone from Afghanistan tomorrow. Maybe for two minutes, but it means a lot.

I got two nice presents already; a suitcase from my sister (something I really need) and a voucher for Cool Discs (which is something I will spend in two minutes!) I haven’t planned much for tomorrow, but i’ve been busy recently so just want to relax. The rest of the week should be interesting.

I’m going to Cork on Thursday. I’m recording at the guide dogs centre on Friday morning for the documentary i’m making, which will hopefully be broadcast during shades week at the beginning of may. I haven’t been to the centre since I trained with OJ, and I always enjoy going there. The part I’m looking forward to most is the visit to Kerry on the way there. I’m meeting OJ’s puppywalkers for the first time. They looked after OJ for almost a year before he started full-time training at the centre. They haven’t seen him since then, apart from when we were on TV. I wonder will he remember them. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Currently reading: Shakey, that feckin Neil Yung bio still. I swore I’d get it finished before Thursday but it doesn’t look like it.
Currently listening to: lots of Neil Yung, particularly ‘rust never sleeps’ and ‘after the goldrush’

Check this out

I saw this on
Blog and loved it!

He was on Joe Duffy’s ‘liveline’ yesterday, about 1.30 in.

That’s reminded me, I was supposed to be on ‘liveline’ once, but they ran out of time! We just came back from Thailand after the tsunami. A researcher from the program rang me a couple of hours before the show and asked lots of questions. I waited on the phone for half an hour listening to Joe talking to a foreign woman whose children had been taken away from her. I can’t remember her name, but she was murdered sometime within the last two years. And people who were still in Malasia after the disaster, and then it was over.
“we’re sorry we ran out of time Jennifer. Thanks for your help.”
So I never got to “talk to Joe” after all!

Article for Insight Magazine

I am writing a series of articles, titled ‘my side of things’ for the RNIB’s Insight magazine. It is an educational magazine produced for parents, teachers and professionals working with people with a visual impairment. The first article was ‘Music and Me’, the second introduced OJ and the third one (for the current issue) is below.

Back to School with OJ

When I was about six or seven a local lady visited our school with her guide dog. I was enthralled. Her visit to our class meant so much to me. Hopefully I can bring some of the same enjoyment to children when I visit schools with my own guide dog.

I change the format of my presentations in classrooms depending on the children. Four and five year olds are too young to understand how puppies become guide dogs and how they are trained. Instead they laugh hysterically at the big shake OJ always does when his harness comes off, and when he tries to sniff the floor if their lunches are nearby. They love telling me about their pets and all the animals they know, and some of them who have Labradors insist that they also have a guide dog! I always ask OJ to give his paw if he thinks they have been good. Of course he just focuses on the words “give me your paw” and gives it every time. The children are always very pleased with themselves.

Older children are fascinated by how the process of getting a guide dog works. I sometimes give them copies of a quarterly magazine that Irish guide dogs produce, and a guide dog quiz that I have made. I also talk about what its like to be blind, and show them some gadgets that people with a visual impairment might use. If the children have learned about Louis Braille in their curriculum, I show them the Braille alphabet, and give them a Dymo gun to Braille their names on some sticky labels. Children with special needs have enjoyed participating in the fun, by grooming OJ while having their photographs taken.

Educating children about guide dogs is a pleasure, and you can never predict what they will ask next. What would OJ do if someone tried to hurt me? Can he distinguish between different colours? How does he know not to go to the toilet inside? One visually impaired child even told his teacher that he was “going to completely blind himself so that he could get a guide dog!”

The highlight of the visit, for pupils of all ages, is when they are allowed to stroke OJ at the end of the talk. Teachers are often concerned that he will be nervous with so many people around him, but they are quickly reassured when they see how gentle he is with the children. The only problem I have then is getting him to leave the school!