Animal Rescuer Raises Awareness on Campus

Andrea Currie

News Editor

Pit bull rescuer Cydney Cross spoke at the Hudson Valley Animal Outreach Club meeting on Oct. 20 about her 20 years of experience. Cross is president of the Albany organization Out of the Pits, which she co-founded in 1994 after 12 years of rescuing greyhounds.

After Cross adopted a half-pit bull, half-greyhound puppy, she met another woman who had rescued a pit bull. “In our conversation, we decided that everybody and their brother were were helping greyhounds at that time. Nobody was helping pit bulls. So, I thought, ‘Why don’t we try that?’” said Cross.

Cross said that many dogs that Out of the Pits has rescued are mentally sound, but have not been properly socialized or exposed to humans, and when first rescued, often “pancake,” completely freezing in place, unable to move. “I used to call them lawn ornaments,” said Cross.

Cross told the story of one such dog, which was one of more than 70 dogs seized in the 2007 Michael Vick dogfighting case. Out of the Pits took the dog, which stood stock-still for the entire eight-hour drive to Albany, said Cross. Out of the Pits placed the dog in a veterinary office so that she would get a lot of exposure to different people and animals. Ultimately, she was adopted and became a service dog for a Vermont woman.

“Dogs that are sound of mind but haven’t had a lot of exposure to the world can be amazing if we’re willing to take the time to do that with them,” said Cross.

Cross said that her organization worked under the radar for most its existence, but the 2007 Michael Vick dogfighting case galvanized the public.

“Up until that point, we had been just quietly working in the trenches,” said Cross.

“It was always quiet, quiet, quiet, because there was nobody ‘famous’ that did it. But because this was a famous person, all of a sudden people started going, ‘Oh my gosh, is this really happening in the United States? Dogfighting?’ Oh yeah, it’s alive and well,” said Cross.

After the Michael Vick case, the public began to think of the dogs as victims, said Cross. She called this “the one gift that Michael Vick gave to the pit bull.”

Cross recounted several of the many raids that Out of the Pits has participated in. In the closest and most recent raid, in late September in Bennington, Vt., police seized seventeen dogs. Out of the Pits took four puppies and three adults.

Cross said, “They were the most emaciated puppies we’d seen in 20 years.” She added that the dogs were from old-time Southern bloodlines that are highly valued in the dogfighting world, making their ill treatment that much more ironic.

“The ‘new’ trend of dogfighters don’t have any clue about who the dogs really are,” said Cross, explaining that pit bulls by nature are calm and good with people. She described the seven dogs that Out of the Pits took as very happy and very friendly, and added, “The way a dog feels about another dog has nothing to do with how they feel about us.”

Cross emphasized that dogfighting is still widespread across the United States. When one student asked, “Isn’t this stuff more prevalent in the South?” Cross replied, “It’s everywhere. Honestly, it’s everywhere.”

Another audience member asked if there were fights in the Albany area. Cross immediately answered, “All the time. ALL the time. Albany, Schenectady, Troy, huge. But they’re mostly pick-up fights.”

Cross underscored the difficulty of prosecuting dogfighting cases. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals actively seek out suspected dogfighting operations, she said. “But local areas all over the country, they’ve got too much [in] their pot to be going, ‘Oh yeah, let’s take out for dogfighting dogs,’” she said.

In a January 2013 operation at Sickpuppyz Pitbull Kennels in Fort Plain, N.Y., Out of the Pits became the lead organization for the case after the area’s animal shelter realized it couldn’t care for all 51 dogs seized.

“They can’t prosecute a case without a lead organization,” said Cross.

She said that Out of the Pits hesitated to take the case because of the monetary cost. “With court cases, you are tied to those dogs until it’s solved,” she said, adding that the chances of reimbursement are very slim.

In that case, Cross said that Out of the Pits found a lawyer willing to work pro bono, though the organization still racked up $24,000 in vet bills and boarding charges.

Cross said that existing animal cruelty laws make it difficult to prosecute offenders, saying, “Unless you have real proof that the guy did it purposely, with intent, you just have to go in through the other laws, which was, they weren’t licensed, they didn’t have proper housing, all that stuff.”

Cross also discussed breed-specific laws targeting pit bulls, saying flatly, “They don’t work. It’s pointless.” She said that many people who claim to hate pit bulls can’t identify the actual dog, often mistaking unrelated crosses for pit bulls and discriminating against them in court cases. She said that the original pit bull weighs about 35 pounds, while the dogs that most Americans consider pit bulls are actually Mastiff crosses.

“If you were in a lineup and your life depended on what you looked like, would you live or die?” asked Cross.

Since its founding in 1994, Out of the Pits has placed more than 6,000 pit bulls. The organization also offers a low-cost spay and neuter program. In the last three years alone, it has spayed and neutered more than 1,500 dogs in the Capital Region.

The Hudson Valley Animal Outreach Club meets biweekly. At the club’s next meeting, on Nov. 3, Brad Shear, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, will speak.

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