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An explosion of pit bulls on the streets of Las Vegas is getting downright dangerous according to Animal Control experts. Backyard breeders are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling ever-bigger and meaner pit bulls.
The Channel 8 I-Team went undercover to investigate this black market industry.
This is not an anti-pit bull story. Most people who've owned one know they can be great dogs and wonderful pets. But they are being bred -- and inbred-- in record numbers, and then sold like drugs or illegal weapons in clandestine street encounters. This illicit trade is a danger to public safety, a drain on public dollars, and a tragedy for the dogs themselves. What will it take to put black market breeders out of business?
Henry Jimenez, with Las Vegas Animal Control said, "Every other dog is a pit bull."
Animal Control Officer Jimenez has been patrolling local streets for more than 20 years and remembers when packs of pit bulls ran wild in the desert. It's far worse now, he says, when every pseudo-tough guy in town has a pit bull of his own.
"They have three pit bulls in the backyard and one inside the garage. It's getting to the point that people are afraid to come out of the house," he continued.
A citizen complaint turns out to be accurate. The home has more pit bulls than the law allows. The owner of the pit bulls can't seem to find his own identification let alone any license for the dogs. A citation is issued, but Animal Control knows it's a small drop in a very large bucket. Pit bulls are now big business, big and mostly illegal.
Floyd Womble, Las Vegas Animal Control supervisor, said, "Pit bulls have a reputation of being the gangster dog of the community, the meanest dog on the block."
With the money that's involved with them, it's easy to sell the pit bull. Chief Womble and his 12 officers handle 30,000 calls a year. About half of them involve pit bulls. Hundreds of those calls involve pit bulls that have bitten a person or animal.
Why the explosion in the pit population? Good marketing.
Pit bulls have become the dog of choice for street gangsters and wannabe gangsters. Web sites and MySpace entries that directly appeal to a street audience advertise pit bull pups that sell in Las Vegas for up to $2,000 apiece.
The sites use code words about how "game" the dog's bloodlines are, or about that special pit bull temperament. They brag about powerful jaws and thick bones. One local breeder has started the Gotti bloodline, named for murderous mobster John Gotti. Stud service for one of these monsters can run $800. Apparently, if you want to be a tough guy, you need a tough dog.
Brandi Baker, with Pit Bull Rescue, said, "They seem to feel if they had a big buff dog, they were big bad buff people. I don't want to say the a-word here. It makes them feel strong to live vicariously through their dog."
Backyard breeders also push their wares in the classified pages of the local paper. Anyone who breeds and sells dogs is supposed to have a license. Few, if any, of the ads mention a license number. Buyers shouldn't expect to visit the home of the seller. Unlicensed breeders treat the dogs like contraband.
Animal Control's Floyd Womble said, "They sell them out of the back of a pickup in parking lots. Won't meet at their residence."
When an I-Team producer asked to see puppies being sold by a man named "Calvin," the producer was instructed to meet him in a parking lot. As the I-Team's hidden cameras rolled, Calvin's late model BMW disgorged its cargo of pit bull pups, on sale for $500 apiece. Calvin emphasized a major selling point.
Pit bull breeder Calvin: "Look at these straight teeth. They're straight from the razor's edge bloodline."
Channel 8 I-Team: "So, how many were in the litter?"
Calvin: "Seven or eight'.
Channel 8 I-Team: "These are the last two?"
Calvin: "No. I've got four left. I just couldn't put them all in here. They'd be scratching up the leather in my car."
Calvin's associate mentioned another selling point for the pups with razor's edge teeth. "They're good with kids, too."
Lied Animal Shelter spokesman Mark Fierro said, "Every time a pit bull has a litter, there isn't five or six little puppies. There's ten or twelve, and they all live. As a result of that, there's a lot of money on the table to pay for rent, to pay for other necessities of life, just from having a pregnant dog."
Local animal shelters are overwhelmed with pit bulls that have been abandoned by their owners. Many of them are deformed because of inbreeding or mauled because of organized fighting.
Friday night at 11, George Knapp takes a look at the toll being taken on the dogs and at others who are making money from this illegal trade.