TODAY   |  May 10, 2011

Advocacy group aims to ‘End Dogfighting’

Animal advocate Jill Rappaport takes a look at a campaign dedicated to eradicating the heinous sport of dogfighting while also teaching owners to value and appreciate their pets.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> each year more than 250,000 animals are involved in dog fighting . now there is a new campaign aimed at eradicating it once and for all. jill rappaport is here with details. good morning.

>> hi, meredith. despite the fact that it's a felony there is an estimated 100,000 people in the u.s. alone involved in this heinous crime. thanks to a special program, people and their pets are now fighting to end this epidemic.

>> no little kid comes out of the womb thinking, i want to see dogs fight. [ snarling ]

>> but it's happening all over america.

>> reporter: a walk through downtown neighborhoods from chicago to atlanta to philadelphia can be a rude awakening into a disturbing world of dog fighting .

>> did someone approach you and try to get you and your dog in the fighting ring?

>> yes. he said, your dog could be in a fight.

>> reporter: for many young men and their pit bulls this is a way of life . just ask sean banks , former drug dealer and gang member , who used to bet on dog fighting . now an animal advocate.

>> it's just a part of our culture, our custom. you know it's wrong but nobody's telling you it's wrong.

>> remember to treat them and praise them.

>> reporter: thanks to a special outreach program started by the humane society , these owners and their dogs are coming together to break up dog fighting .

>> this is real life stuff. you take your dog for a walk. shouldn't want to attack anybody.

>> reporter: the program is called end dog fighting and was started in chicago to teach people the value of their animals. in return, they develop a loving bond for life.

>> up! yes!

>> teenagers, if you lead them down the right path, they will do the right thing. including training dogs.

>> reporter: it's changed your life, too.

>> oh, man. puts a smile on my face every day.

>> he's more excited.

>> reporter: and the humane society 's wayne piselli, author of "the bond" knows these dogs and young men need a second chance, and they are getting it. so it's a win-win. not only can the animals be rehabilitated but the young boys as well.

>> it really is. it's redemp tif for the dogs, for the young men. and i think it's a win-win all around.

>> we'll bring in wayne , the president and ceo of the humane society of the united states and jeff jenkins, the triner from end dog fighting and june bug as well. our special guest who was in dog fighting at one point.

>> she was on her way, absolutely.

>> jeff , you have been training kids and their dogs for four years. what results are you seeing?

>> incredible results. these neighborhoods, all day, every day running classes. i have young men involved in dog fighting . the same dogs accompany me into schools and correctional facilities and they are advocates for the dogs they were once fighting.

>> this program started in chicago in 2006 . gained recognition after michael vick was convicted on dog fighting charges, right? when people started to think about it.

>> dog fighting was in the shadows. we knew about it, but it was not popular knowledge. after the michael vick case we updated laws in 30 states. we also want to reach kids before they get into the enterprise. we don't want to just deal with the effects of dog fighting . we want to prevent dogs from being in the situation.

>> i understand junebug performs with the chicago bulls now?

>> she does. want to see?

>> junebug, let's go. hey, get up there. sit. ready? good girl. junebug?

>> whoa!

>> i thought she was headed to the kitchen.

>> and considering pit bulls occupy the majority of shelterers it's great to see them reformed as well.

>> there is a real bond between the kids and animals. that's for sure.

>> we have an instinctive bond with animals. we don't want it corrupted. we want this wonderful relationship. that's the purpose of the book "the bond" which is to highlight the connection between us and other creatures.

>> thank you, wayne , jill and jeff . we are back in a moment. oh, and junebug, of course. this is "today"