Fate uncertain for 15 former fighting pit bulls

A pit bull named Pretty Girl was impounded A pit bull named Pretty Girl was impounded and is recovering in a North Hempstead Animal Shelter in Port Washington after being seized from an alleged dogfighting ring. (March 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Uli Seit

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Most of the 15 pit bulls sat nameless in cages outside the shelter.

Some of the animals, seized in January and simply labeled evidence while awaiting the outcome of a criminal dogfighting case, were scarred, had open sores and visibly shook. Unlike non-fighting dogs named Oreo, Egypt or Sunny also housed at the North Hempstead-run shelter in Port Washington, the pit bulls have been deemed unavailable for adoption and face an uncertain future.

Though vets check the dogs weekly, shelter director Sue Hassett said, no date has been set for their release, and experts say the path to recovery is winding and uncertain.

"Until the court clears them, they're kind of in limbo," she said. But "they're hanging in there; this is probably the best they've ever had it" since police recovered them from an alleged dogfighting ring in a New Cassel woman's backyard.

The Nassau County district attorney's office declined to comment on case specifics.

On a cold morning last week, some of the dogs, from 6 months to several years old, paced their steel cages. Some were loud, others quiet during the outdoor break.

Based on history, according to animal and legal experts, the dogs' outcomes may vary, too.

"They're like fine athletes; they're in training to fight and that's what their job is," said Sandra DeFeo, executive director of the Humane Society of New York. "If they're trained to kill . . . do you want them?"

John Byrne, a Nassau district attorney spokesman, said in an email that the office "has worked closely with leading experts . . . to assess these animals and to provide them with the best possible future."

However, "many fighting dogs cannot be safely adopted due to the barbaric training they've been subjected to," he said. ". . . We anticipate that these animals -- all victims of horrific abuse -- will not be available for public adoption."

Professional handlers, recalling past dogfighting cases, told tales of triumph and tragedy.

"The older dogs, once they are accustomed to fighting, it is very difficult to rehabilitate [them]," said Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "It can be done, but it's very costly; it's very time-consuming."

Often, "these animals get euthanized; they're not safe to put out for adoption."

But Melinda Plasse, president of upstate Cropseyville-based The Animal Support Project, said "that used to be the norm. . . . We have a lot more data that helps us understand there is hope for these animals."

She cited the breakup of a dogfighting ring last year, involving 50 pit bull mixes in a Bronx apartment. Most were adopted, including Mona Lisa, 4. She was cared for first in a shelter run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, then a foster home upstate.

Eventually, after four months of training, she got better.

"The shorter you can make the sheltering, the better," Plasse said. Otherwise, "They're living an institutional life; it's like putting kids in reform school."

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