Monday, September 11, 2017

sneak preview

The setting for this adventure is the middle of the okeefenokee swamp. Literally in the swamp. The lights were strung over the dog pit suspended from tree limbs and run by generator and yeah somebody did live there.

The hundreds of photos I shot over the years were quite accurate but could never really convey the atmosphere. Imagine if you will approximately 100 people sitting on cobbled together bleacher eating, drinking and smoking waiting word from the promoter.

This show was being staged by my buddy the illustrious Harry Hargrove who at the appointed time stepped over the pit wall to make " the announcement." Back in the day all shows where prefaced by the promoter giving a brief speech.

"We're getting ready to have a dogfight here tonight (whistles, cheers) so if there's any sheriff's department, ATF, Treasury agents or humane society here I want you to stand up and identify yourselves (no one does, duh) . I see some people here tonight that I don't know so I'm going to point to them and somebody tell me who they are (all eyes scrutinize the crowd).

At this point my somewhat warped sense of humor kicked in. I turned to Carolyn Hand who was sitting to my left and asked, "you don't think anybody like that's here tonight do you?" She leaned close and (sotto voce) said "oh honey you never know who might be sittin next to you at one of these things anymore". She then assured me that if there was the men would handle it so I shouldn't worry.

After ascertaining that no undesirables were present the matches commenced. There is no way to convey the atmosphere. The smell of wet dogs, blood, beer, b.o. and the all pervasive miasma of redneck moron overlaid with barbeque is beyond description. Bets are being called with odds, some are taken while others are countered. A half kilo coke deal goes down not ten feet away while two dogs grapple and swap out holds.

I'm in my own little world bounded by the viewfinder of my trusty Nikon. The owners want pics if their dog wins or shows game.  Jack Kelly will publish them in the Sporting Dog Journal along with the match reports Carolyn will submit. Kelly is absent from this show, the dogs are average, no one going for a title tonight so he'll get the report and photos in the mail.

The matches go as expected until number six. Two fast mouthed fast footed bitches both looking for their first win fight wall to wall. This match went about forty five minutes before one quit standing on all fours.

After number seven is done it's time to convoy out of the swamp and down to the nearest all night diner for breakfast. It's only around two and sitting around for the post show dissection is always rewarding.  We take the three largest tables in the place and begin evaluating the dogs, the handlers, the gate and the crowd. These post match parties usually last an hour or more and something I always found quite productive.

I now have additional names to go with match handles. The guy sitting across the pit from me wearing three different plaids is from N.C. and a friend of Robert Bass. His kid is pre vet at UNC. That'll come in handy for everyone. The dogs this night had required no urgent post fight care, they just weren't that good. He and I will meet again in the not too distant future.

Finally it's time to go. After I leave the parking lot I spray myself with air freshener. The cloying smell of dogfight has permeated my clothes and I've no desire to spend the next few hours with it in my nostrils. Tonight the Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin ride with me over an empty rolling two lane road. It's very cold, sever clear with a full moon riding west. Frost sparkles like diamonds on cut over fields. The songs, the solitude and the night are really quite lovely, it's a good drive home. 

Hitting the Bigtime

I know I'm solid. I am absolutely granite rock solid. I've been invited to one of the biggest conventions in the country! My friend Harry Hargroves and his partner Robert Swetman are promoting this one. I got the call two weeks ago and my adrenaline level spikes to an Everest high the day of the show. I'm so high I'm cruising at 30,000 feet in still clear air. It's the best high on earth and I need it for my job.

The old Silver Fox, Maurice Carver died only a few days before the meet. The dogmen all have sads. Funnily enough it's not bothering me in the least. We talk about Carver and the old timers, old days and old dogs sitting around the motel. Good stories and I'm being introduced to some of the major players from all over the country. Their stories are wonderful, I can't get enough. My genuine interest aids my cover - they love an attentive audience. The Devines are here from central Florida. They're not showing at the convention, they're very wary of large gatherings. They are fighting at a private residence in the early afternoon. Don Devine invites me personally, after all I'm with all the right people and have been around long enough to be quite well trusted. He asks me to bring my camera, both dogs are highly touted and it should be a good one. Not a problem. Even Pete Sparks won't be at this match, mine will be the only camera pitside this afternoon.

We hit the local I-Hop for lunch and leave from there. I'm riding with a dogman from Virginia to the pit. This house is way in the woods at southeast Georgia /northern Florida border. The sand track driveway is approximately a quarter mile long. It's really pretty here, good landscaping, nice home, not what I'm accustomed to in dogfighter abodes.

We park in front of the house and are met by the principals. These guys are really careful. When the dozen or so invitees are accounted for the gate is locked. As I walk back toward the dogpit I see a stack of tires placed to form a ring. When I get closer I see a little bulldog puppy maybe eight weeks old inside the tire ring. His front paws don't reach the top. He's just too cute. I'd take a shot if I weren't afraid of burning film, it's going to be a very long day and night.

One of the Devines' boys will be handling their entrant. It's males at 32# and each of these dogs has won a good match before this one. Both dogs are red, the Devine dog a deep dark red, his opponent lighter. They're on weight and in excellent condition. This ain't no drop match folks it's the real deal.

They meet in the center of the pit at the words "let go". Holy shit they're fast! Fast mouth, fast foot and unreal talent. I've been going to the wrong goddamn dog matches. The "B" grade is a natural starting point but now I'm seeing top flight dogs. Neither dog has much mouth and very little damage is being done. As cool and overcast as it is if they are game and have good wind this could be a long one.

For the first hour and thirty there are no turns and no out of holds. Finally a turn is called and they are able to make a handle. This will start the scratch in turn as specified under the rules of the contract, which is modified Cajun rules for this fight. The handlers are tossed sponges from a shared water bucket to cool and clean the dogs. They are checked for fanging and time is called to face the dogs.

The dog that turns first must scratch first and depending on the rules in use must make contact with the opponent either hair to hair or taking hold. There are actually several different sets of rules governing a dogfight. When a contract is made the rules to be used are specified along with sex, weight, time, place, the wager amount and forfeit. On occasion there will be contingency plans in the event of disruption by law enforcement. Only rarely are the dogs specified in the contract.

The scratching begins but it's another twenty minutes to the next handle. We're now at about the two hour mark and the action has slowed. Both dogs are still strong and engaged and have scratched well. Finally at the 2:40 mark the light red dog is counted out before he makes contact. The Devines' dog has won number two and the loser is happy with his little dog as well. Both have shown to be seriously game little dogs. We all now head back to the motel for more tales of dogs and dogmen past until time to leave for the convention.

end part one

Hitting the Bigtime Part Two

The word comes at 5:30 pm, we're ready to roll. The promoters and their connections will be leading convoys of cars of no more than twenty in a group. We are reminded not to trail too closely, we don't want to attract attention. This is a very rural area, the local cops are ok but you never know when Highway Patrol might happen along and get nosey.

After about twelve miles cars begin to slow and blinkers flicker a left turn. This is a sand track through a planted pine forest. The traffic starts to backup about a quarter mile in, we've come to the check point. Cars occupants are identified and the gate fees collected collected. It's ten dollars per match from each of the men. Women and children are always welcomed at no charge. We continue on through the woods until we get to a cleared area and are directed to parking areas near an old barn. After the darkness of the forest and the cloud obscured moon it seems as bright as a sports stadium.

There is a roof extending from the barn open on all sides. The bleachers are on two sides and the roof covers the pit and first few rows of seating. Karen Hargroves has saved a seat and I'm first tier between her and Frank from VA. The food, scales and wash station are in the barn as is a toilet reserved for ladies only. Karen asks if I'm hungry or would rather she set a plate aside for me. I opt for the later, adrenaline is a great drug but also an appetite suppressant.

The bleachers are on opposite sides of the pit. The barn wall is at the end to the right of me. There are two signs posted on the wall. One sign lists the order of the matches with the names of the people and weights and sexes of the dogs. The second sign is more interesting : "Welcome to the 1st Annual Maurice Carver Memorial Convention". Oh yeah, this is really the big time and I'm really here. There will be between 300 and 400 hundred spectators in attendance. I feel like a rube on my first trip to the city.

The wait tonight will be long, the cars are still coming in. There's a man with a walkie talkie in contact with people in the woods at the turn in. When everyone who is expected is in and accounted for the gate will be locked. The lookouts will remain in place until the first match just in case. There's another sand track continuing on through past the pit and back into the woods. It comes out behind someone's house if we need to make a run for it. This explains the close attention to parking. I'm gratified to have been put in the "V.I.P. lot, I'm good for a fast exit if need be.

Jack Kelly and his entourage are here tonight. Kelly is more on top of his game than the usual suspects and his brother is a cop in New York. He's someone of whom I've always felt wary. I greet him as an old friend and he thanks me for the photos. They're of much better quality than Pete Sparks' and I don't use a flash in order not to blind or distract the dogs. I'll be shooting "Best" and "Gamest" in show tonight as well as action photos. Kelly is as wary of me as I am of him but we must play out our roles as we trust each other.

Most of the dogs here have won one or more matches already and a few are looking to make champion. Bruce Turlington's dog Dipstick is one of the few looking for win number one but there's still a lot of talk about him. Baker Davis is here with Midnight Cowboy who will have a Ch. added to his name before dawn as will Harry Hargroves' Red Danger.

Baker Davis is someone I've long wanted to meet. His dog Gr. Ch. Boomerang is quite famous and came from Maurice Carver. I get an introduction and we get on well, I get invited to visit his yard the following weekend.  Several people will be coming for a cookout and to "look at" some dogs in schooling rolls. I wouldn't miss it for the world and get specific directions and phone number. He likes to help newcomers get started right as do most of old pros in the game. Fresh blood is necessary to the continuation and expansion of their sport. They're always looking for the right kind of people to continue the tradition.

The mingling continues until everyone who is expected has been accounted for. The gate is locked and we'll be ready for the first match promptly at eight, the time for which the first combatants have been fed. Part of conditioning is adjusting the dog's feeding schedule so that his digestive tract is empty at the time of the match. This not only insures that the dogs in on weight but but will help them not overheat during their fight. I shoot a couple more quick pics getting the match lineup while I still have the time.

I retake my seat and check my extra film cache before the announcement. It's a little different tonight, everyone here is well known to the fancy, there will be no unknown quantities to distract from tonight's events. Any threat to this convention will come from the outside. We are safe here only in the company of our own.

I will be concentrating on only a few matches tonight that I expect will be very depictive of the reality of dogfighting. We desperately need to upgrade the state laws everywhere from misdemeanor to felony. At this time only California has felony dogfighting laws. Most states only fine fifty dollars or less on gambling charges. The dogfighters get their dogs back which is intolerable. Very little will be done to end this atrocity without providing motivation to law makers to take action. Drugs, guns, untaxed cigarettes and liquor are always prevalent at these events and I want my photos to include this. Cash is always visible as bets are laid and paid. I'll have all this on film as I'm front row center and have to just shift slightly to cover the crowd across the pit from me. No one will know they've been shot, I'm just shooting the dogs after all.

The dogs have been washed and weighted and are being brought into the pit. The first match is about to commence.

dog fighting lingo

I thought that perhaps instead of a simple glossary it might be more helpful to read the explanations in context. My apologies if it becomes tedious,  I've never discussed the subject at length with the general public. Should I at any point use a term or make reference to something that seems vague please let me know and I'll address it.

A dog pit or box is the arena in which the dogs due combat. It is generally twenty feet on a side and two to two and a half feet high. Carpet should be used as the floor covering as it provides traction for the dogs. Two corners diagonal from each other will have a line of tape or paint apx. three feet out from the the corner of the walls. This is the scratch line. The dog and handler must remain behind this line at all times until directed by the referee to release the dog. The handler may not step over this line until the dog has left the corner. To do so will result in a loss by fouling out.

Prior to the match the dogs are weighed. If a dog is over the specified weight the handler must pay the predetermined forfeit. The owner of the other dog may still choose to continue or reschedule the match for a later date. The referee will toss a coin to determine order of washing. The winner of the toss can choose to wash first or last. The dog washed first is then wrapped in a towel or blanket and carried into the pit. The handler first in chooses a corner and waits for his opponent. Once both dogs are in their corners and the referee has entered the match can commence. There are two officials, the referee and a time keeper, who advises the referee of corner time counts during scratch in turn as well as the official length of the match at conclusion.

To begin the match each dog is held facing into his corner and may not turn around until the referee instructs the handlers to "face your dogs". At that time the dogs are turned to face one another and make eye contact. When both sides are ready they are ordered to "let go" or "pit" their dogs and the fight begins. Only then may the handlers leave their corners.

During combat the handlers may talk to their dogs, whistle, clap or pat the carpet but may not at any time touch the dogs. Only the referee may instruct the handlers to touch their dogs and only their own dog prior to the end of the match.

The referee may order the handlers to hold their dogs in place in the event that one becomes "fanged". Ranging occurs when a dog in trying for a bite hold on his opponent pierces his own lip with his canine tooth or "cutter". This impairs a dog's ability to stay in hold and is corrected as soon as discovered. In order to unfang a dog the referee will slide a pen, pencil or similar tool between the gum and lip above the tooth to be freed. It is then pulled down the outside of the tooth freeing the lip from the tooth. If this cannot be done when the dogs are in hold the will be separated but not taken to their corners and the fight will recommence.

Either handler can call a "turn" on either dog which the referee may or may not allow. A turn is the dog literally turning head and shoulders away from the opponent without seeking a hold. This may indicate that the turning dog want a break, wants to quit or is simply part of the fighting style of that individual.
This begins the "scratch in turn" portion of the match. A handle is made as soon after a turn is granted by the referee and the dogs are free of holds. They are returned to their corners and the thirty second count begins. The referee gives a sponge to each handler to clean and cool the dogs. The sponges are from the same water bucket that remains under the eye of the time keeper or a judge for the entirety of the match.
When time is called the handlers again face the dogs and the dog who turned must scratch to the other dog in order for the match to continue. If the dog refuses to scratch or fails to beat the count to complete his scratch the match is over with the failing dog loosing the match. Almost all fights are won or lost during the scratch in turn portion of the match.

Each dog has his or her own style of fighting. Some are "front end" fighters in that they prefer the chest or brisket and shoulders as a target. Others prefer to fight the "stifles" or the knee to upper thigh of the hind legs. There are preferential face, ear, nose, throat, head, leg or gut and back end fighters. Ch. Chinaman was one of the best known gut and kidney dogs who literally disembowelled one of his opponents in the pit. There are also dogs known as "nut cutters" in males for specifically targeting the penis and testicles.

The fight will continue until a dog is unable or unwilling to continue. If a dog is unable to complete his scratch, cannot or will not take a hold, or attempts to leave the pit the match is over. The handlers may also agree to a draw during a long fight between equally matched, equally game dogs in order to try to save both dogs.

After the fight has been decided the handler of one or both dogs may ask for a "courtesy" scratch as proof if his dogs willingness to continue even if unable to win. The winning dog is held in his corner with his mouth held closed to prevent further damage to the loser. When the losing dog has made his courtesy and been retrieved by his handler, the winning handlers may "tail scratch" his dog to reciprocate the courtesy. In this the handler releases his dog but holds the dogs tail to insure there is not contact with the loser.

If both dogs have shown to the satisfaction of their handlers and recover from the match they may be retired or matched again.

A dog who has won three or more contract matches earns the title of "champion". A dog who has won five or more contracted matches without any losses or draws earns the title of "Grand Champion".
I'm sure there will be more terms or activities I fail to sufficiently explain but I'll answer any questions you may have to correct my oversights.

Man Fighters

So the dogmen culled their man fighters did they? No, not so much.

This is just a small sampling of very famous man fighters. You can Google them to get the information direct from the dogmen themselves.

Ch. Chinaman was a man fighter. The reason Bob Fritz sent him to Vinny was quite simply that Chinaman tried to kill Bob on first meeting. You can get this info online, I got the story from Bob Fritz.

Pat Patrick considered Bolio to be one of the most dangerous dogs he'd ever held in the corner. Pat posted Bolio's story online, I heard about it from Pat. And yeah, Bolio was bred a lot.

Ricky the Rebel Jones Ch. Turtle was such a man fighter he was only taken off his cable run to breed. He was even dangerous to feed or clean. Google him and read for yourself.

Ch. Jocko would eat you alive but it was ok as old man Fletcher Chavis had a yard full of man fighters. He was fine with that as it cut down on dog thieves.

Gr. Ch. Art was selective, he only tried to attack a few people but it was an all out scratch.

Gr. Ch. Zebo was passed from yard to yard until he landed in one with no kids. He was not a great nanny dog, he really didn't like children. Come to think of there were adults he didn't really like either.

Sharon Holt of the old Pit Dog Report told a great story one evening about her husband Raymond and Bullyson. He and another man offered to transport Bullyson from one yard to another. They couldn't get him crated so he was riding free in the car. Bullyson started getting an attitude early on in the trip. Raymond, in the passenger seat, had to tickle the dog's testicles for the entire ride to keep Bullyson from attacking them. Google it for yourselves.

Okay so there were champion and grand champion pit dogs who were bred. All must have been curs because man fighters are curs right? Try ch. Bad Joe Willie, 4xW, 1xL dead game. He died in hold in approximately three hours to Crazy Hank.

As with many of the older working breeds the breed name is also a job description. Pointer, retriever, setter, hovawart and shepherd are examples. The Pit Bull Terrier or American (Pit) Bull Terrier was bred solely to do combat in a dogpit. They were never nurse's aids, nanny dogs, soldiers' rescue dogs, herding dogs, astronauts, physicists or anything other than combat dogs. I am always suspicious of those who claim to love this breed while simultaneously in such denial of what the breed is in reality. If you love something you love it for what it truly is and not for something it has never been and can never become.

i took the liberty of finding the pedigrees for these man fighters. thank you tropical storms for helping to dispel the myth of 'man-biters were culled'.

Art's registered offspring

Bolio's registered offspring

Chinaman's registered offspring

Zebo's registered offspring

Bullyson's registered offspring

Jocko's registered offspring

Turtle's offspring

Crazy Hank's offspring

Joe Willie no registered offspring

more from tropical storms

dog fighting lingo

sneak preview

Hitting the Bigtime

Hitting the Bigtime Part Two