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Getting VA Youth Out of Dog Fighting Ring

November 15, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - It's a fight for entertainment, money and status for some of the human participants, but dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states. It still happens underground, in both rural and urban areas.

Fights can range from small impromptu back-alley bouts to highly organized operations in abandoned buildings, basements or isolated rural areas. While many acknowledge it is difficult to convert adults involved in the illegal activity, many groups are working to change the hearts and minds of inner-city youth - including Richmond-based Ring Dog Rescue, where Robin McVoy is a volunteer.

"The idea is to give young people in urban neighborhoods a different way to interact with their dogs. Fighting isn't the only cool thing you can do with your dog. You can walk down the street with your dog and have a really well-trained, obedient - even a dog that can do tricks - and other people will think that's kind of cool."

Ring Dog Rescue is modeling its training program after The Humane Society of the United States' End Dog Fighting campaign, which uses a multi-pronged approach including; classes, educational training sessions, and low-cost spay and neutering programs.

Dog fighting often is linked to other illegal activities such as drugs, gangs and gambling, says McVoy, a board member of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies. Ring Dog Rescue workers' goal, she says, is to focus on individual neighborhoods where they suspect the fighting is prevalent and invite youths to bring their dogs for weekly training sessions.

"You try to get in before these kids go in the wrong direction. You teach them how to work with their dogs, and you hopefully build a bond and give them an appreciation of the animal that is not focused on cruelty."

It's not easy to recruit youths in some tight-knit communities, McVoy says. Ring Dog Rescue will partner with with Boaz & Ruth, an organization which helps with prisoner re-entry job training. The idea is to involve some people from the program who are familiar with the neighborhoods.

Laura Donahue, Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the Unites States, which has had success with its End Dog Fighting campaign in Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia, says providing resources helps create a better bond between humans and animals.

"The best way to end dog fighting was really to lift up the community, and help them provide better care for that animal and help them with their needs."

More information on the End Dog Fighting campaign is online at humanesociety.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA