Weigh In: Dog Killed in Dog Fight at Best Friends

Best Friends reported on their blog this week that 2 of the Vick dogs and a 3rd dog were involved in a dog fight that apparently occurred when the dogs busted out of and into each other’s kennels at a time when they were unsupervised.  The dog who wasn’t one of the Vick Pits was found dead and the other two were injured.

Several things about this story struck me as very odd, starting with the housing situation:

All three dogs were housed alone and in separate buildings so it took a huge effort for them to interact.

When I play out this scenario in my mind, it almost seems like some sort of choreographed, tag team dog fight.  While obviously the three dogs would be incapable of planning such an event, I’m wondering how often does this sort of thing naturally occur?  I’ve never heard of anything like this but of course I don’t work at a sanctuary with a number of highly dog-aggressive dogs.

Another aspect of the story that sounds very implausible to me – although again, perhaps it is plausible and my lack of experience/knowledge simply makes it seem unlikely to me – is that Best Friends theorizes that deer passing through the area might have triggered the chain of events.  I would have thought deer running around is seasonal there, like it is here, and the dogs are accustomed to it.

Finally, I’m confused as to the safety measures in place.  I would have guessed that any dogs too dog-aggressive for adoption would be housed in double fenced runs.  But maybe that’s not the standard of care, I don’t know.  If it isn’t, wouldn’t there be some other preventive protocol in place such as a nightwatchman to patrol the areas which house the highest risk dogs?  Or maybe surveillance cameras mounted in the areas with the highest risk dogs so someone could monitor activities when the place is closed?

Since I don’t have experience in this area, I read through the comments on the blog posting.  Most of them are from people expressing sorrow, offering condolences and the prevailing attitude seems to be “accidents happen”.  But there are a few from people who apparently work at BFAS, either presently or in the past, and I wanted to pull those out:

Holly Smith:

You have to be kidding me. The dog died because there was no double fencing and the care givers were warning the management that this could cause a serious problem. Once again, a problem has been caused because the powers that be refused to listen to the people who know. A dog had to die and the issue made public for double fencing to go up.


Hi Holly,

Thank you for voicing your concern so that I can address it. Please know
that we have a comprehensive fencing protocol. Our caregivers meet
regularly with Dogtown management to point out any maintenance needs and to draw attention to any concerns about a given dog’s fencing requirements. Our Team Leaders in Dogtown check all maintenance requests that are turned in and insure their proper completion.

Many of the dogs that we manage require special considerations. Our primary concern is the animal’s safety and welfare as well as their emotional
health. In conjunction with the physical requirements like fencing, our
caregivers work diligently to meet the emotional needs of each individual

Caregivers do express concerns as the needs change for different dogs. If a
dog needs a different type of fencing than it currently has, the decision is
made to either move the dog to a run that already has the appropriate
fencing or to add the appropriate fencing to the dog’s current run. We have
runs that have normal fencing between runs, we have runs that have double
fencing between runs and we have runs that have cement board visual barriers between runs. All of these types of fence lines meet specific needs for the dogs.

In most circumstances it has not been necessary to have double fencing on
fence lines that are not shared with other dogs. Obviously in this case we
were tragically mistaken and work has already begun to prevent this from
happening in the future.

Patty Hegwood
Director Animal Care

Vicki Mcdog:

I worked at BFAS and I know how hard it is to get a request for fencing or whatever for the dog’s completed. We worked soooooooooooooo hard to get barrier fencing in dog run’s where dogs were redirecting on each other out of barrier frustration. So, I for one beleive [sic] Holly Smith’s blog reply.


Like Vicki, I used to work as a caregiver at Best Friends. (Hi, Vic!) Many of us tried so hard to get double fencing put on all the lodges. But management said that there was no money to do so. Again and again, we saw dogs with chewed off ears, tails, legs–all wounds done thru fences. (Example: Nicole got her lip totally damaged because a dog in the next run pulled on Nicole’s lip and tore it to pieces.) We begged, we cried for double fencing, but the answer was always the same, “No money.” If Beans and Tug and Denzel HAD been in double-fenced runs, none of this would have happened. None of it.

What do you make of the story?  Have you heard of this type of tag team dogfighting before where a dog breaks out of his own kennel, goes to another building, breaks into another dog’s kennel and then the second dog does the same thing?  Could deer passing through the sanctuary be to blame?  Is double fencing for highly dog-aggressive dogs not the standard of care for sanctuaries who handle these types?  And if it’s not, what is the standard of care to prevent incidents like these?  Lastly, is this type of event foreseeable and/or preventable or is the “accidents happen” philosophy appropriately applied to this case?

Additional blog posts on the subject:

Safety is Too Expensive – Exfriender

Best Friends Dog Fight Death – For the Pitbulls

28 thoughts on “Weigh In: Dog Killed in Dog Fight at Best Friends

  1. My first thought was: You mean to tell me that with all of the dogs BFAS swooped in an scarfed up, along with the almost $20k dowery per dog, they couldn’t afford double fencing?
    Seconddly, I have witnessed bonded animals ‘tag team’ before. In fact I have seen a cat and dog tag team another dog; a horse and a duck that were stablemates tag team a stray dog; and a pack of dogs from a single family tag team a bear that wondered in to close to their house. So yes, animals (domestic) do revert to pack/herd instincts IMO.

    1. WV, I agree with you and have also seen this. However, there was no prior bonding here. The Vick Pits had been taught for years to attack other dogs, and dog-fighting is a one-on-one sport.

      On deer, many who have volunteered there can tell you of all the deer that are seasonably seen there. During hunting season, the deer seem to have learned they are safe in this huge sanctuary and the numbers grow.

      1. When people give up the false notion that pit bulls are “trained to fight,” the dogs will be safely housed and managed. Dogs are conditioned before a fight, but prey drive is genetic and not “trained.”

        Dog fighting as a sport is one-on-one since it is a managed spectacle, but dog fights can and do include any number of dogs.

        Those who know the breed preach “never trust a bulldog not to fight.” Accept that. They are who they are.

  2. I think I’m in shock. My gosh, how tragic. I’m sure Ann Allums is beside herself with grief. I’m not even sure why I’m typing since I have nothing really constructive to say. I am upset. I have always considered the sanctuary to be the shining star of all that is Best Friends, particularly in the midst of some changes in leadership and some recent disagreements between folks I consider heroes. At the same time, however, I have to acknowledge these words that Patty wrote, “obviously in this case we were tragically mistaken and work has already begun to prevent this from happening in the future.”

    I do believe I’ll go light a candle. How very, very sad.

  3. What to make of this story… Something doesn’t pass the smell test.

    For years I managed a large dog boarding kennel. We had our share of seriously dog aggressive dogs, a few people aggressive dogs and a slew of escape artists. In all the years I worked there we probably had half a dozen temporary “escapes” of a single dog getting out of their kennel into the main double fenced yard. This was always during business hours and always could be traced to a new employee who did not yet understand the importance of always double latching the kennel doors. Never two escapees or more. Never.

    Our resident wildlife included bunnies, squirrels, deer, raccoons, possums and coyote.

    BF is supposed to be the “experts” on housing this type of dogs. While I guess it could happen, there is probably a lot more to this story than we’re being told.

  4. At the risk of being lambasted, while I believe in “no kill”, it seems to me, that any dog in NEED of double fencing, visual barriers made of “concrete board”, etc. are UNSAFE. PERIOD. Wouldn’t money be better spent on necessary vet care and general “improvements” for more worthy animals?

    1. Kay, please consider the condition and background of many dogs. They are brought to a very strange place and are scared and some have been fending for themselves for some time. They are frustrated with the confinement and some spend time play-fencing with neighbors. Expand this to include several hundred dogs and you will find a few who become too aggressive to others. This is a small percentage and one of the supposed purposes of the BFAS Sanctuary is to provide the care and training for such animals that some other shelters may not be able to handle.

    2. Like exfriender said – these dogs are no less worthy of the time, money and effort than other dogs with less pain in their past (or the ability to better exhibit socially accepted behaviors despite their past).

      However… this story really sounds like they have NO idea how it happened, or they know and they don’t want to say. Either way, I hope going forward they make improvements on the conditions of the runs and kennels so something like this never has the potential to happen again.

      Each mistake is a learning experience, none of us are above these life lessons. I wish BF was more open with the actual occurrences for this mistake. We could all learn from it.

  5. It is plausible that a predatory/frustrated frenzy could cause one or both aggressors to break out of their runs.

    Breaking in to another dog’s run would likely be dependent on the other dog acting out at the barrier — starts with fence-fighting.

    All the animals were wounded, so I would not assume that the two Vick dogs tag-teamed as packmates. When multiple dogs engage in a smack-down, it’s common for everybody to pile on whomever is on the bottom, whether or not they know one another. Tugs-of-war are common. After finishing with that dog, they may or may not duke it out with one another.

    If I had animals come to me with a 20K dowry each, plus crazy fundraising yields afterwards and a veritable army of volunteers, I think I could manage some more secure fencing. Was this conventional chain link? Not pitbull-proof! Not when they are highly motivated. There may be a lot of reasons the fighters use logging chains, but this is, in fact, one of them.

    Why were the dogs out in runs at night? Are there no secured indoor solid-walled kennels for sleeping?

    If the escapes and the fight were, in fact, precipitated by redirected predatory frustration, there must have been a Wall of Sound that preceded it. Facility the size of Best Friends, with their high profile, doesn’t have anyone there at night to keep alert for trouble? Rilly?

    1. Yes, lots of unanswered questions. The story put forth just doesn’t add up to me.
      Interesting observation about the use of logging chains to stake out dogs used for fighting.

  6. well, you can see in your comments as well as the comments at the BF blog and “exfrienders” blog the drum beat of hate starting for these dogs (“Why are we wasting resources on these vicious animals?”) Aside from the death and injury to the dogs, the worst part of this incident is the impact on the effort to save fighting dogs (who are of course victims of his horrifically cruel activity). The haters will certainly find a way to get this into the mainstream media and then the s*** will truly hit the fan.

    And that’s where the unbelievable irresponsibility that allowed 3 dogs to get through kennels and get into serious fights.. with NO ONE hearing what must have been an incredible ruckus.. lies. It’s not just these dogs that have suffered. It’s every dog rescued from a fightbust in the future. BF has a lot to answer for. I actually applaud them for not covering up the incident, but the lame, incomplete account has actually made things worse.

    1. EmilyS, where have I ever pushed that “…drum beat of hate starting for those dogs”? I love working with pit bulls and believe that many if not most of the former fighting dogs can be rehabilitated. Yes, others have questioned the wasting of resources, but I’ve argued against them.

      1. I said “comments…at your blog”, not that you said it. You can’t deny that there are these comments there as well as BF and here at YB too. I am very concerned about this.

      1. YesBiscuit, future rescues from dogfighting busts is a very contentious issue right now. I fully agree with EmilyS’s concern there.

  7. I think the blogger here (http://for-the-pits.blogspot.com/2010/10/best-friends-dog-fight-death.html) says it all… irresponsible owners – whether it is Best Friends or an individual – it is THEIR responsibility.

    1 can happen, 3 with prior warnings and no one hearing … absolutely irresponsible.

    Every one of us has to prioritize when it comes to everything. I would think that double fencing is one of those things you don’t put off when you’re dealing with these poor dogs – NOT THEIR FAULT.

    I do realize some dogs are escape artists – my foster (a rottie/hound cross also from a dog fighting ring and thus EXTREMELY dog aggressive) broke out of not one, not two but THREE crates. Roarke was around 60 lbs (all muscle) and managed to wreck and escpae a crate that my 92 lb rescue shepherd couldn’t break out of.

    Once I realized (after the first one – a STEEL crate no less) he was crated in a separate room and the door was locked when he was in his crate.

    As owners – even if it is an organization – we MUST take responsiblity for our animals.

    1. You bring up some good points Selkie. Had this occurred 2 weeks after the Vick dogs arrived, I think the “accidents happen” attitude might be more fitting than it is now. As things stand, there has been plenty of time (and money) to get the double fencing (and/or whatever other safety measures are needed) in place. And if the comments from former staffers are accurate – that they had asked several times for preventive measures and were repeatedly denied due to cost AND had warned of something like this happening – that puts this incident well outside the “accidents happen” parameters.

      You describe using a belt and suspenders approach for your foster dog. That seems wise to me. In fact, someone from BF actually suggested something similar to me when I was brainstorming ideas to help Linus (our dog-aggressive male). I implemented it and we haven’t had any unintended contact between dogs since.

  8. Passing wildlife is definitely an added inducement to jump fences. I know my neighbor’s new dog is going to be in my yard one of these days. Every time my dog barks at a squirrel (we are down to watch and bark versus fling self at fence trying to catch squirrel, but there are squirrels in our yard all day every day), the neighbor dog gets excited and wants to play too and starts trying to jump the fence. My husband spotted her with her shoulders above the fence, so it’s just a matter of time. They are not bonded and have only sniffed each other through the fence a couple times.

    I’m not concerned about my particular situation as they are both dog social dogs (well, my dog is female dog social and male dog selective, but neighbor dog is female) and we supervise our dog closely in the yard as when he gets bored he looks for new things to open or escape from and we don’t want him targeting the fence. (Also, we are going to be doing some work to make sure they are friends just in case she does come over.)

  9. I think what gets me is that supporters and ex-caregivers are stating outright that this has happened a lot before. I mean, I have one commenter on my blog who didn’t like what I wrote but mentions that this isn’t the first time such an escape occurred.

    I’m not anti-Best Friends, but geez, when gross negligence occurs, it has to be brought to the open. ESPECIALLY if it’s happened before and nothing was done. Maybe the publicity will encourage double fencing for dog aggro dogs.

  10. Just curious, but how much could double fencing cost for those dogs who needed/still need it? (I’m assuming it would not be needed for every single dog run out there).

    I’m just trying to get a perspective on “we can’t afford it” when compared to bringing in 43 million dollars.

    1. I’m not an expert and have no sanctuary experience but as a dog person, it seems to me that regular fencing would be suitable for most dogs. Of course you don’t want ANY dog to escape but the ones that I would think require the double fencing are those that – if they DO escape – might kill another dog. To my mind, the level of dog-aggression here had to be extreme. It’s one thing to break OUT of your kennel but quite another to run over to another building and break INTO another dog’s kennel after that. And it didn’t even end there. I just can’t imagine that BFAS was unaware of that extreme level of dog-aggression among those dogs and simply applied the same standard safety to them as they do to all the other dogs there. Not that I know that to be the case – I don’t – but that’s an assumption I’m making based upon the discussion around the case.

  11. Steve Markwell, founder of Olympic Animal Sanctuary, talks in great detail about double gates and fencing in his instructions to those who decide to keep their aggressive dogs rather than seek placement at his sanctuary:


    It’s disappointing, to say the least, if BF didn’t have these measures in place for the dogs in question, and it’s clear enough from Patty Hegwood’s response to Holly Smith that they didn’t. It’s a real surprise too if they don’t have nighttime staff. Markwell sleeps with some of his dogs and much was made, when “Dogtown” was filmed, of BF staffers doing the same thing with some of the Vick dogs. But it sounds as if that was a special situation.

    Also, it does seem as if BF struggles badly with communication issues. I am a former member and was so frustrated with their poor messaging over Oreo’s Law (and of course the decision they made not to support the legislation) that I told them I would not contribute again. They don’t handle crisis communication well at all — Patty Hegwood’s response is written in the most horrible kind of business-ese — and any expanding organization needs to have superior skills in this area. So IMO it’s not enough that they acknowledged that this happened. They are not giving the details and thus leaving room for speculation. I agree too that this will probably be harmful to the cause of saving fighting dogs. I just finished reading “The Lost Dogs” and so the Vick dogs were fresh in my mind. It’s heartrending what they go through and they need to be protected.

  12. Battersea had a dog who worked out how to open kennel doors – fortunately he was only interested in socialising and accessing food.


    Best Friends have now clarified that the first dog escaped through an exterior fence, not one adjacent to another dog.

    It does seem to me that some of the reaction is because these are fighting dogs. Rabbits can and will give each other terrible injuries if incompatible ones get out together, so can greyhounds and many other animals.

    Looking at their accounts for 2009 the number of animals they rehome in a year seems a bit low – 724 – (for comparison the RSPCA is about three times their size in financial terms and rehomed 90,000 in 2009), but they’re committed to permanent care for unadoptable animals, so it’s not really a fair comparison.

    1. At BFAS many dogs learn how to open a typical door latch. However, their doors include either pins or clips to prevent this from happening. I have never seen a dog defeat that. (Some new visitors have failed also:-)

      All three dogs here were through an exterior fence. Yes, much of the reaction is due to these being Vick Pits, as other prior incidents have received little public mention.

      Permanent care is only a portion of the area. The issue of which are unadaptable has also been raised.

  13. I’m really surprised that BF doesn’t have any overnight security especially with such high profile dogs on the premises. I’m still unclear on how this escape happened. I’ve seen people say the dogs chewed through the fence, others have said the dogs dug under the fencing. I have to agree with those who have said this story just doesn’t add up.

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