May 25June 1, 2000
photo: Daryl Gale
by Daryl Gale
part 1 | part 2 | glossary
Greg is a 42-year-old husband and father of four from West Philly. He works a steady job, owns a home, doesnt drink or take drugs, and is well liked by his neighbors and co-workers. He owns two pit bulls, Rufus and Tiara, that are his pride and joy. He faithfully feeds and walks them, keeps up with their shots, and at times, treats them like children.
Right now, Greg is down on his knees on the living room floor, petting and caressing Rufus, talking to the dog in soothing tones and looking for all the world like the gentle owner of a beloved family pet. Rufus licks his owners face, wags his tail and soaks up the loving like any dog would.
But Rufus is not any dog. His chest and shoulders are as hugely muscled and chiseled as a bodybuilders. His head is enormous for a relatively small dog, and most of that head is iron jaws and white teeth. Even playing happily at home with his master, Rufus is one scary-looking pooch.
He should be. Because Greg, known on the streets as Pork Chops, is one of West Phillys most infamous dogmen. And before the night is over, Rufus will have those iron jaws clamped around another dogs throat.
Pork Chops breeds, trains and prepares his dogs for grueling, life or death battles against other dogs for amusement, bragging rights and cold cash. And like his fellow dogmen, hes unapologetic about his chosen hobby, unmoved by the cruelty of the bloodsport, and unfazed by the horror and scorn from the rest of society. The dogmen stand on street corners in West, North and South Philly, and everywhere in between, boasting about the exploits of legendary dog fighters like Pop Shooter, whose names strike fear into the hearts of dogmen.
"Dog fighting is mostly based on reputation," Pork Chops says, puffing a Kool as he drives down 52nd Street in the big white Chevy wagon he calls Moby Dick. "Sometimes people will come knock on your door because they heard you got good dogs. Theyll have their dog in the backseat ready to go right then," he laughs. "Ive done it myself. Its like the old Western gunfighters thing, everybody wants to be the baddest in town."
Dogmen ply their trade in back yards and dark basements, cheering on their canine champions even as theyre splattered with blood, bits of flesh, urine and spittle. They strut around the streets with their charges straining against their choke chains, filled with the twisted form of macho pride that comes with having a trained killer for a pet. They show off their dogs scars like badges of honor a torn ear, a ruined eye, a line of stitches across the belly. They brag, insult and taunt each other with tales of their own dogs murderous exploits, and challenge all comers in a bizarre game of king of the hill that doesnt end until somebodys dog is badly wounded or dead.
The weapon of choice among dogmen, of course, is the pit bull. The dogs we most commonly call pit bulls could be one of several specific breeds; the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier are the most recognizable. All three share a common ancestry, so theres some disagreement among experts as to whether these are different breeds, or simply different strains of the same breed. And since theyre frequently bred with each other, the distinction has become even more blurred of late.
photo: Daryl Gale
But whatever name you give it, a pit bull trained for fighting is as frightening and efficient a killing machine as youll find anywhere. These dogs are not Pete the Pup from The Little Rascals, and theyre not Spuds MacKenzie. Theyve killed children, maimed adults and destroyed countless pets. They are armed and extremely dangerous.
Rufus, a 40-pound 2-year-old Staffordshire male, is slowly gaining the kind of reputation that made his mother Tiara famous in dog circles. Tiara is undefeated in 10 matches, and is known for her speed and power. Rufus is undefeated himself, but has only three fights under his belt and "needs to get snatched" according to Pork Chops, dogmans jargon for pitting one dog against a larger or more experienced animal, mostly for training and experience what a boxing manager would call "stepping up in class."
Interestingly, there are any number of parallels between boxing and dog fighting. At organized matches, dogs have seconds, or corner men. Theres a cut man and a referee, and dogs go to their respective corners between "rounds." And like boxing, its brutal and its ugly.
"Ive probably trained 20 dogs over the last 10 years," Pork Chops says, whipping Moby Dick around a corner and lighting another cigarette, "and matched my dogs against bigger dogs, smaller dogs, any dogs. And Im telling you, the biggest dog doesnt always win. A fight can last an hour or more, so endurance and meanness count as much as size. Whats that they say about Its not the size of the dog in the fight? Thats the truth."
Sometimes dog fights are large and well organized, like the match in North Philly that was raided last month, resulting in the arrest of 81 defendants, including two off-duty cops. But those are not the norm, according to Pork Chops. Usually its just a few people, certainly fewer than 10, and the matches take place in somebodys basement or garage. Spectators do more harm than good, he says, drawing too much attention.
"Those guys who got busted last month were stupid," he says, exhaling a stream of smoke, "thats why they got popped. You had dogs and owners hanging around outside, dogs left in cars barking up a storm, people yelling and screaming and shit, no wonder the cops broke it up. They were just too stupid to be cool about it."
Pork Chops, a veteran of hundreds of matches as both participant and spectator, says that for every dog fight raided by the police there are a thousand more that go on unnoticed.
"Youre not going to stop it," he says, "not as long as theres big money being made. Ive made as much as $5,000 in one night, and thats nowhere near the top end of how much a dogman can make off one match. I saw one guy make $15,000 one time, and he probably couldve made more than that. Its all in the betting. Thats where the real money is. I know one guy who trains his dog to look like hes losing at first, just to drive up the bets. Then his dog comes back and tears the other dog up. Theres a lot of strategy involved."
For the dogman, "strategy" involves training and schooling methods that would sicken most people. Daphna Nachminovitch, a cruelty case worker for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), talks about training a dog for the pit.
"These people use cats and small dogs as bait, tying them to a pole or tree and letting the fighting dogs tear them apart for practice. They force the dog to drag cinder blocks or barbell weights around with them to improve strength. Or they use a towel or rawhide bone for bite training. Theyll let the dog get a grip on it, and then use a rope to hoist the bone into the air with the dog still holding on. They leave the dog suspended in mid-air, sometimes for hours at a time, to practice getting a bite and holding on. Its cruel and its sick."
The only thing worse, according to Nachminovitch, is what happens to a dog when it loses a match.
"Often the losing dog is shot in the head," she says, "but believe it or not, those are the lucky ones. Here at PETA, we hear of cases all the time where a dog will be tortured, hanged or burned alive after losing, because thats the owners way of setting an example, of showing his other dogs that losing a fight is not acceptable."
This facet of dog fighting was confirmed by Pork Chops, although he says dogs are not shot for simply losing a match, but to put a badly wounded animal out of its misery.
"If your dog is hurt bad, what else can you do?" Chops asks. "You damn sure cant take him to the vet, because the vets gonna call the cops. A lot of guys carry medicines and needle and thread with them, because you have to handle your own first aid. But if the dogs too far gone, all you can do is put a bullet in his head. Thats not cruel, thats merciful."
Ironically, dog men talk all the time about how much they love their dogs. Pork Chops eyes fill with mist as he speaks of his beloved Chops, the undefeated champion he named after himself. Chops was one of his first fighters, and fought valiantly for nearly 10 years before Pork Chops retired him and put him out to stud; the champ obliged by siring several litters of puppies for Pork Chops to sell at $100 each. Finally, old and dying of natural causes, Chops was finally put to sleep late last year.
Pork Chops still speaks reverently of Chops, proudly cataloging his kills (at least 10 fighting dogs and dozens of training dogs and cats). Choking back tears, he talks about the dog the way the old men at the barber shop talk about Sugar Ray Robinson or Joe Louis.
"Chops was the best of his time, he was, whats the word? Ferocious. Chops was the most ferocious dog I ever saw. He loved to fight. He lived for it. Ill never have another one like him," Pork Chops says, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
part 1 | part 2 | glossary