450 pit bulls seized in raids face tough odds

ST. LOUIS | Many of the 400-plus pit bulls seized in multistate dogfighting raids appear happy in their new digs at a temporary shelter in St. Louis, where one volunteer described them wagging their tails in seeming gratitude for newfound human contact.

But animal welfare officials say it may be hard to find the dogs permanent sanctuary.

Fair or not, the stigma attached to the American Pit Bull Terrier, coupled with the sheer number of those seized this week in federal raids in at least seven states will hurt their chances of adoption, animal welfare groups say.

Unlike the dogs taken from NFL star Michael Vick's BadNewz Kennels, the roughly 450 pit bulls being kept at shelters in several states have no celebrity owners to pay for their upkeep. Vick, who pleaded guilty to operating a dogfighting ring in August 2007, was ordered by a court to pay nearly $1 million for his dogs' care.

The raids this week resulted in the arrests of 26 men, who face federal criminal charges related to dogfighting in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

The pit bulls' seizure comes as U.S. shelters are inundated with abandoned dogs and cats, 3.7 million of which are euthanized each year because they can't find homes.

Animal welfare groups say they will evaluate the dogs and litters from pregnant females for aggressiveness, trauma and personality and make recommendations on the potential for adoption to the Humane Society of Missouri, which will report to the federal courts. Some of the men charged still own the dogs, but the courts could severe those ties. The bigger challenge likely will be finding open hearts and homes.

"If you have 15 or 20 dogs, it's potentially manageable to evaluate and place those who pass the test," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

"But when you're talking about 450 dogs, it strains the capacity of the adoption network. Evaluation is just one part of it. The other question is do the new environments exist?"