Dogfighting Survivor Story: Saving a Doberman Used as Pit Bull Bait

Categories: Politics
bruno at the shelter.JPG
Photos provided
Dog fighters used Bruno as bait for pit bulls they were training.
It used to be that pit bulls rescued from dogfighting rings like the one written about this week in New Times were destined to be put down. Even some animal activists thought they'd be too aggressive to become family pets.

Now many of the dogs are placed with families through groups like the Fort Lauderdale-based No Paw Left Behind. Jacquelyn Johnston, who founded the organization, hopes to save about 300 pets this year, and that will likely include pit bulls rescued from dogfighting rings.

Johnston has her own story of saving a dog rescued from a fighting ring, and she spoke with New Times about what it involves. Below is an excerpt.

New Times: Your dog Bruno was rescued from a dogfighting operation. What do you know about how he was treated?

bruno's ear.JPG
Bruno lost a chunk of his ear before he was rescued.
Johnston: Bruno had been used as a guard dog for a junkyard. He was an unneutered, uncared-for large Doberman. His owners were unhappy with his lack of aggression as a junkyard dog, so they put him up for sale. The people who bought him beat him with a golf club until his head hung to the ground. They placed a chain around his neck and secured him in the middle of a fighting ring. They let all the fighting dogs in training practice on him.

The group of dogs that were discarded from the fight were all thrown in an abandoned field, and MDAS responded to collect all the bleeding dogs.

How was Bruno rescued?

Thankfully, Bruno was found in time by the animal control officer and brought to the shelter. They labeled him "aggressive" because of his severe injuries and the snarls he made from his limp head as he was walked by other kennels filled with dogs. I was at the shelter, for the first time, later that day. I was looking for a small feral dog I had been working with but had not seen for three days. On the last row of kennels, I saw his face. Bruno was collapsed with his head on the ground. He looked up at me, and when we made eye contact, I lost control, crying uncontrollably. My friend had to carry me out of the shelter.

What kind of physical shape was he in?

Bruno's ear was ripped halfway off, the other severely mangled. His nasal cavity was open, exposing the inside of his nose all the way up almost to his eye socket. I counted over 100 scars from his nose to his ribs but stopped counting there.

Was he aggressive?

He was a broken soul. I have a huge problem with the word aggression, since no one seems to accurately describe what that means in reference to canines. Bruno laid with his head flat on the ground. When we placed the lead around his head to walk him out, he could barely stand. As we walked him past the other kennels, dogs barked, and he would crumble to the ground. I kept whispering to him, "Please, just walk out of this shelter with me and no one will ever hurt you again, but you have to walk!" It took about half an hour to get him out of the kennel, then we were almost out of the lobby when a man's Yorkie barked at him. He crumbled to the ground again and wouldn't stand up. I asked the man to pick up his dog and back up so I could walk my dog out. He laughed and obliged.

Bruno was a bleeding, emaciated skeleton, scared of his own shadow, still the victim of heartless people, even as we walked out. The shelter workers were very nice and helped guide me out the rest of the way.

It still took another hour to convince him to get in my car. The rawhide bone and treats didn't work at all. I don't think he had ever seen one.

bruno beach.JPG
Bruno after his rehabilitation.
What did it take to rehabilitate him?

I called my home-visit vet as soon as I got him in the car. He had to be treated for kennel cough, Ehrlichia [a tick-borne disease that causes problems with blood clotting], an array of worms and parasites, and he needed x-rays. The bite wounds were too deep to suture, so they were flushed and bandaged. He had fractures to his skull and two vertebrae in his neck. I even enlisted a massage therapist and crystal healer to work with him. It took six weeks before he was even stable enough to be tested with another dog, but he made it through and even learned a bunch of commands along the way.

What was he like at first at your home?

When I got Bruno, he was all I talked about. I was nervous to introduce him to my unruly and young female Doberman, but I had learned about reading dog behavior, so I believed he would be a wonderful part of my family. When I introduced them, we went very slowly... After only about ten minutes, he relaxed and they were inseparable.

After he fully recovered and gained back to a normal weight (from 52 pounds to 100 pounds), I began working on more commands, leash training, and other basic obedience tricks. He would accompany me to all the art shows and was even photographed as my date in a few newspapers. One day, I took him with me to a pet store, and he kept staring at the woman in front of us in line. I let him approach her, and he leaned against her. When she knelt down, he placed his head over the back of her neck and began to make kind of a purring sound. She fell to the ground in tears and kept asking him, "How did you know?" It turns out that she had just had to have surgery for two fractures in vertebrae in her neck, the same two as he had fractured.

That day, I knew he was meant for even more than I realized. I took him to be tested for therapy work.

What did it take for Bruno to become a therapy dog?

We failed the first time because he could only hold a sit-stay for 16 feet; then he would run back to me. The second test we passed, and he began working with children who had been bitten by dogs and making appearances in schools to educate about responsible pet ownership.

Bruno passed away in February, and after all you've been through with him, was it tougher than with other dogs you've raised?

I am still not myself since losing him. It hurts every day. I made a promise to him, though, to always tell his story and honor him by continuing to speak up for the pets in need, especially those who someone else might overlook. I honor that promise every day, and I would say the person I am today is at least half because I was fortunate enough to live with Bruno for five years.

Is the lesson from Bruno that all dogs can be saved? Are there some fighting dogs that have become too vicious to be rehabilitated?

I don't believe that dogs are "vicious" or "aggressive." Dogs are reactive beings; they react to their situation, and they can be trained, either by someone or by experience, to react dangerously to triggers. Some dogs I work with have clearly defined triggers and can be safely placed in a responsible home to live a happy life. Others may have triggers that are too difficult to manage or triggers that are not clearly defined, which results in a dog that would be potentially volatile in a home environment.

My goal is to work on making these distinctions. I learn a lifetime of knowledge from each dog I meet. Every day, I strive to honor all the lives that have come through my path and help the people around these dogs learn to be open to the love and experience each one of these pets is offering.

We live in a time when many people treat their pets like kids, yet there are dogfighting rings where people abuse dogs in such horrible ways. Why do you think that is?

That's a difficult question. In my opinion, we ask of ourselves too many things that are not true to our nature, and we do the same to our pets. Here are so many things we could learn about ourselves if we only took the time to look at it from another perspective.

Overall, this is a larger cultural issue. We can analyze it here because we are all comfortable talking about "how people treat dogs." Ask the same kind of questions about "how people treat each other," and it becomes an issue too personal to discuss openly.

If someone's interested in adopting a former fighting dog, what should they know in advance, and where should they go for information?

Anyone interested in adopting should do their research, no matter what kind of pet. A large part of what No Paw Left Behind does is work with new adopters to match them with the right pet. I have had extremely dog-aggressive bloodhounds, Chihuahuas, and cocker spaniels. Now, yes, a "fighting dog" is usually going to be a powerful breed like a pit bull. But if you have ever seen a bloodhound get into a fight, they are just as menacing.

I had a couple with a 2-year-old child and a three-pound Pomeranian apply for a Doberman. I had a very sweet, older, docile male that was a perfect fit. When they went to the foster home to meet him, they liked him, but they wanted the younger female Doberman. I explained to them I would not adopt out that one to their home situation.

Ask a rescue. This is what we do! We spend our lives working with people and their pets, and a lot of the pets we get are ones that were either bought or rescued that "didn't work out." The goal of rescue is to help as many pets as possible find the right homes and help as many people as possible find the right rescued pets.

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i am a college student writing a rhetorical essay on animal abuse and dog fights, of all the reasearch ive been doing and all the stories i have read i think this one is the saddest yet the most heart warming, i just wanted to say that i will be basing my thesis and my entire essay on this story

Hog Hunting
Hog Hunting

My brothers and I used to go hog hunting when we were younger and we had trained dogs. Our dogs were trained to be vicious towards hogs, but were as gentle as could be around people.


Dawn, please show your basis for your feelings as well. Any dog can be viscious, any dog. Every breed. She did not spread lies about "bloodhounds" but stated that she has known bloodhounds, chi's, poms, and other breeds that are or can be dangerous in the fact that they can and or may bite. Just as people have "teeth" and attack when they feel defensive, you and Turkey and Stonefly bit. Are you dangerous as well? Hmmm, let us represent ourselves with decorum instead of misguided anger or hate. I'm just saying....there is no need to attack someone for their opinion. Question, sure, but attack, no.


Turkey and Stonefly, would you mind reciting the "facts" that you base your stated opinion on? I hear your opinion loud and clear but do not see any "factual proof" offered here to uphold your conviction. Things are changing where these types of dogs are concerned. That change has come around because some people have taken it as their cause to put these old opinions to the test and to see if these dogs are just a menace because they were bred for years to fight or if they can be rehabilitated. It turns out that yes, some can and are done so successfully. That factual information is out there if you so choose to investigate with an open mind and heart. Even little dogs can be viscious and are taught to be so because the owner thinks it is funny. It is not no matter the breed or size of the dog. You may be misinformed or basing your opinion on old news and perhaps ignorace of new gains in this field of "dogs" in particular, the Bully Breed that has been bred to fight. Funny how a lot of these dogs are killed because they will not fight. What is your answer to that? Are they still dangerous, will they still kill you? I don't think so, they will not perform to a standard that is set by some heartless, money grubbing human therefore they are killed in gross manners if they do not die in the ring. So, can you back up your stated opinion with some legitimate facts? I am interested in seeing where you got your information. Peace!


Should fighting pit bulls be saved? Absolutely not! These are dogs that were bred for fighting over centuries and were actually allowed/encouraged to do so. You can't "rehab" genetics, and no amount of precautions are good enough when it comes to other peoples' pets and children. When thousands of dogs are put down every day for lack of homes, most of them pit bulls that have never been fought, why the push to save the most dangerous dogs of all? It makes no sense and is certainly not humane to other pets. Rescuing dogs is a noble thing, and no dog wants to be born a fighting pit bull, but common sense has to prevail here. Pro-pit people need to think about the rest of us that live in their communities, and the tactics they use to save pit bulls. They get very upset when you simply tell the truth about pits, like they were created for fighting, and consider it racism towards pits. Yet they badmouth other breeds, with lies on top of it! The problem with pit bulls goes beyond the breed - it is the uneducated and rabid people that push them on the rest of us. It really has to stop because it is the pit bulls that are paying the price.

Eric Barton
Eric Barton

We don't like to discourage comments on our blog posts, but guys, let's bring things back to a civil nature. Debating whether pit bulls ought to be rescued and/or bred is a reasonable discussion, but let's not use it as a way to make personal attacks.

Chaz Stevens, Genius
Chaz Stevens, Genius

Tell you what StoneFly. When Eric Barton takes the time out of his busy day to write a story about you and/or your plight, then I'll start taking you seriously.

Until then, consider hormonal replacement therapy. Your bitching reminds me of the early symptoms of menopause.


Well, CHAZ, you sure do get lost easily, CHAZ.

Chaz Stevens, Genius
Chaz Stevens, Genius


You lost me right after "the dobe was saved". Sorry that I don't speak vodka.



Its great that the dobe was saved. The problem with the story is the dobe story is used simply as a framework to spread pit bull propaganda.

First, that pits bred to fight, and that did actually fight are safe in neighborhoods with people. They are not. They will do to my pet what was done to that dobe and worse.

Second, to malign another breed, the bloodhound, which has an UNBELIEVABLY consistent history of docility towards people and animals in the service of spreading pit bull propaganda.

People are now going to adopt a fighting pit and be told they're just like any other dog. Untold maulings and deaths of both people and animals is going to follow.

Read the post about the lies.http://thetruthaboutpitbulls.b...

Meaghan Edwards
Meaghan Edwards

These pro BSL nutters know jack all. I'm glad victims of dog fighting are now being a second chance.

Chaz Stevens, Genius
Chaz Stevens, Genius


Johnson saved a dog from a savage life.

Are you full of that much hatred to even recognize the goodness of her act?

Get a life lady.

Dawn James
Dawn James

Yes, Bravo to Johnston for carrying the pit nutter torch and helping to spread lies about the bloodhound.

For a group of people so concerned maligning dogs, you people sure do take the cake.


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