10/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bones Takes on Dogfighting. We All Should.

The primary reason I started watching Bones earlier this year was, well, the primaries. I was really sick of the rancor, the bitterness, the nastiness, so I turned to fiction. And I was fortunate enough to find escapism in a really excellent show. Now that we have two presidential candidates and the campaign is in full swing, I guess we're back to basics. I'm not saying that it's getting too icky and we should stop paying attention to the news, but here's a thought -- how about an issue we can all get behind?

Last week, in its third episode of the new season, the Bones case of the week dealt with dogfighting. What was great about the way the show took on an issue without "taking on an issue" was that they didn't hand themselves over to the issue, nor did they hand themselves over to their guest star, "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan. (In fact, every show should look to Bones to see the correct way to implement a celebrity guest star -- no showering of praise, no special treatment, just put him to work.) Their case led them to a dogfighting ring, and ended with the sad truth that the dogs used in this horrific crime only become dangerous when forced by their masters. The dogs were used as murder weapons, on the victim of the week and on each other, for money for those who watch them kill each other for sport. [Notes on the show at the end.]

Dogfighting was in the spotlight last year when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted for operating a dogfighting ring. The public was exposed to one of America's dirtiest and worst-kept secrets, and it cost a star athlete his career. As it should have. At Vick's property, starting in 2001, there was evidence of dogfighting, including blood on the walls and equipment, including rape stands, because if one is sending dogs into the ring to tear each other apart, they will inevitably need more dogs. According to, "breeders of attack dogs place special value on females that are so mean they might bite any male dogs that get too close." So, think about that.

Dogfighting is huge business -- in 2007, the Humane Society estimated approximately 40,000 "professional" dog fighters and an additional 100,000 "street" or amateur fighters. Even more people show up across the country, sometimes with their children, to watch 250,000 dogs kill each other, placing illegal bets of up to $100,000. (Being a spectator is a felony in 20 states, a misdemeanor in 28, and legal only in Georgia and Hawaii.) Dogs may be prepped to fight beforehand by starvation, beating or injected stimulants; some dogs are injected with steroids or narcotics to mask the pain they'll feel in the fight. The fight ends when one dog won't fight anymore, either because it's injured and can't fight or it's dead. Often, the wounded animals die anyway, either from infections or when they are executed. Sometimes dogs are executed before they even get to the ring, if they're not deemed to be enough of a fighter. (They "audition" as fighters with weaker, smaller animals, including stolen house pets.) Vick's indictment cited animal death by drowning, hanging, electrocution and slamming into the ground.

And the dogs themselves -- as a dog lover myself, the hardest part of Bones was the reveal of captive, imprisoned dogs shackled in a barn, afraid of every human being who came near them, thinking they were going to be called on to fight. All of them had the chance to be a beloved pet and live a happy life with a family had they not fallen into the wrong hands and been condemned to such a cruel fate at the hands of criminals out to make a buck. In the end, the dog who was used as a weapon, Ripley, a sweet, German Shepherd mix who was a former pet unknowingly sold to the dogfighting ring, was put down, because he did what his master said, because he was scared to do otherwise. Pit bulls especially have garnered such a bad reputation as fighting dogs because they were, originally, bred to fight and hunt. As Bones smartly showed us, in Gladys, pit bulls can be trained to be well-behaved and friendly pets. But as strong, muscular animals, they can just as easily be bred to kill. Sadly, dogfighting has given them that stigma to bear, and animal shelters are seeing more and more of the breed -- many dogfighting survivors. Their unpredictable behavior because of their past also makes them much harder to adopt, so many are euthanized.

You don't have to be someone who cries at the ASPCA ad with Sarah McLachlan to find this all unnerving, appalling and revolting. It might be one of a handful of things we can all get behind, even President Bush, who signed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act into law on May 3, 2007, which toughened the penalties for dogfighting to the felony level and made it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting (including dogfighting and cockfighting). So clearly, animal cruelty is not a partisan issue, and in this case, donations really can help. And if you can't donate, simply make yourself aware. Maybe you'll do something about it, maybe you won't. But at least you'll know.

For the Humane Society Dog fighting Fact Sheet, click here. For the ASPCA Dog Fighting FAQ, click here.

The Animal Rescue Foundation commercial that aired during the show:


And, now, a quick thought on the show, since there's quite a big surprise coming this week.

Wendy Young of (and a mom-to-be of two!) reminded me that last week's episode, "The Finger in the Nest," was likely written and filmed before the Season 3 finale aired (something about which I may have had a few things to say), but I thought that, considering the subject matter, it was a pretty interesting coincidence that my knee-jerk response to the exit of Zack Addy (Eric Millegan) was to say that show creator "Hart Hanson shot my puppy." Anyway, this was the episode where we finally dealt with the absence of Zack. I loved how it was done, and both TJ Thyne and Emily Deschanel (who is, it should be mentioned, a very big supporter of animal rights) both gave performances that had to make people wonder why "Bones" was shafted at the Emmys and why -- oh, why -- David Boreanaz was paired with Lauren Conrad to present. I'm not even putting her name in bold. I don't know who she is.

Bones airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM EST on Fox. This episode, "The Finger in the Nest," can be watched on Fox on Demand.