New exhibit shows gruesome side of dogfighting

WASHINGTON – Spiked collars, break sticks and electrocution devices are just a few gruesome items lining a new exhibit at the Crime Museum in downtown D.C.

It features these and other tools used in dogfighting, and graphic photos of wounded animals.

“I think dogfighting is probably the worst violation of that special bond between people and dogs,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, an expert in forensics and anti- cruelty with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), of why he worked on the exhibit “Dog Fighting: The Voiceless Victims.”

Janine Vaccarello, chief operating officer at the Crime Museum, talked about the process of deciding just how graphic the exhibit should be:

“We try to keep everything PG because we do have children coming through here,” she says.

At the same time, Vaccarello wanted to expose the public to the brutality of dogfighting.

“We want people to leave this exhibit area and then go do something about it,” he says.

Lockwood, whose work has spanned decades, says attitudes about dogfighting have changed in the legal arena. More people now see it as a violent crime. Lockwood says prosecutors often tell him that animal cruelty cases generate stronger reactions among jurors than crimes against people.

And Congress is considering a bill that would expand laws against dogfighting to include penalties for spectators, as well.

“People really do see the animals as truly innocent, and as voiceless victims in need of special support,” he says.

Lockwood points out that among the artifacts in the exhibit is the indictment naming Michael Vick. The football star eventually served time for his participation in dogfighting and has since worked to rehabilitate his image.

“Personally, I have difficulty in forgiving him, but if he can be helpful in the fight against dogfighting, we welcome whatever help we can get,” he says.

Lockwood says one type of dog has borne the brunt of the damage that comes from the activity.

“Too often, pit bulls in general are demonized as the weapons of dogfighting, but from our perspective they are the victims of dogfighting,” he says.

While the exhibit takes an unflinching look at the bloody practice, there is a bright spot: The story of Dragon, a dog rescued from a Virginia dogfighting ring. Noting his friendly manner, behavioral experts decided he was a good candidate for adoption. He has since found a new home, and his owner refers to him as a sometimes goofy clown.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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