Taking the Bait
by Lillian G. Leslie
Bait. This is the term characterizing the animals used in training by people who commit the crime of dog fighting. Kittens, puppies and bunnies are favored for their size and virtual defenselessness, but (friendly) adult cats and small dogs frequently find themselves thrown into a futile batter for their lives in the jaws of put bulls and other fighting dogs. These “bait” animals are meant to increase the fighter’s ability to kill as well as his lust for violence. The brutality of the fighting ring is only one ugly step in a series of cruel acts toward the innocent.
We first saw him one morning around 4 a.m. He was stumble-running behind a boy on a bike in the middle of a city street. The boy, who looked to be in his mid-teens, was grinding the bike’s pedals as hard as he could to make the little dog run faster and faster. It was a sticky hot summer night, and I wondered how long the little dog had gone since his last drink of water -- his long tongue dangled out of his open mouth as he put his heart into keeping up with the teenager on the bike. Wrapped around the dog’s neck was a length of towing chain, the kind used in hauling cars and trucks. I’ve come across these chains in the alleys before, and I can say without fear of dispute that they are anything but light. I can’t imagine walking any distance under the weight of one of these chains around my neck, but running? The teenager had one end of it wrapped two or three times around the dog’s neck, with the other end wrapped around the bike’s handlebars.
I was beside myself with wanting to help the little dog. Although Dee had never seen the dog, she recognized the boy and his bicycle as part of the local drug business. Dee is street-smart; she knows who we can approach and who we must leave alone. She has gone to great lengths to establish herself with certain drug dealers in our route areas so that they’ll allow us to enter their territory in order to accomplish our work. They let us in because they know we won’t cause them trouble or attract attention, and this “relationship” is absolutely necessary for our safety as well as the animals’, however unpalatable it may be. The boy on the bike was off-limits to us Dee tole me in a stern, instructive tone. Our best hope would be to come across the main dealer in that area whom Dee had spoken to on occasion, but we cannot interfere with the dealer’s errand boys such as the one on the bike.
Try as I did to concentrate on our alley work, I couldn’t get the picture of that little dog out of my mind. We didn’t see the man Dee said we could talk to about the situation, and for days after I wondered what new hardship the dog was facing. At least two weeks passed before we saw him again. This time he was in the alley, not the street, and he wasn’t with the bike boy although the chain was still wrapped around his neck and dragging on the ground behind him. “Look, Dee!” I was nearly shouting. She knew I wanted to rescue the dog then and there but, with the wisdom of experience, she stopped me from getting out of the car. In the alleys, long shadows can hide many a deadly danger and Dee knew the bike boy might well be watching his dog -- and us -- from the enshrouding darkness. All we could do was to toss the little dog a bit of food and make a quick exit. In the rear view mirror I saw the dog gulp down the food as he kept a wary eye on our car.
Another week or two went by before we saw the little dog again, as the last time, in an alley rather than the street. The chain had taken a toll on this poor soul who couldn’t’ hold his head upright. This time, unlike previously, we were not in a dark, shadowy area and Dee felt confident the dog was on his own. We could only guess why the boy was still absent -- maybe his family moved away and wouldn’t let him bring the dog, maybe the boy was in jail. We did know, however, the dog was now abandoned and the way was clear for us to rescue him. Dee got out of the car with food, but she soon discovered this was not going to be easy.
The little dog learned the hard lesson that people were not to be trusted; Dee’s attempts to coax him close for food proved unsuccessful. In fear he ran from Dee -- by now he was all too familiar with running under the chain’s burden -- but in his panic he stumbled over the thick, heavy length of it hanging down from his neck. He hit the ground in mid-stride when his legs got tangled in the metal, and the force of his head slamming to the concrete pavement dazed him. His legs were entwined in the chain, he was momentarily stunned by the impact of his head against the hard ground, and Dee seized the opportunity. A symbol of domination, the towing chain our little dog wore around his neck day after day that tied him to a life of torment, because at once the instrument of his freedom. Had he not gotten caught up in it when he fell to the ground, he might still be in the alleys.
Dee learned over the dazed, downed dog and gently picked him up, chain and all. The dog snarled and tried to wriggle free from the tangles of chain as well as Dee’s firm grip, but the fight within him was all by gone from the daily strain of surviving. He didn’t put up much of a struggle. Walking back to the car, Dee had some difficulty with the clanking chain now threatening to entwine her own legs, and she observed later that the dog weighed considerably less than the chain that held him captive.
I knew there were countless others still out there bearing the brunt of similar atrocities, but in that moment my heart was glad. In the symbolic gesture of unwrapping the chain from around his neck, we released this one from the physical and phychological pain imposed on him by human wickedness. These days he’s thriving and most definitely has a spirited outlook on his new life -- head held high, he prances with a lightness known only to those who have been freed from prolonged torment.