Beaufort News

Bluffton bait dog calls attention to area dog fighting

Holly Zusack opens Malachi's mouth to show where his teeth where removed.
Holly Zusack opens Malachi's mouth to show where his teeth where removed. Jonathan Dyer, The Beaufort Gazette

The white pit bull was found hobbling near a gas station on S.C. 46 in Bluffton earlier this month. A piece of his ear was missing, and he had suffered from more than 20 wounds.

But the most telling injury was to his teeth. Nearly all of them had been pulled, and those that hadn't had been filed down.

The injuries are consistent with those of a "bait dog," often used to train other dogs for fights, according to Holly Zusack, co-owner of Three Black Dogs, a Bluffton pit bull rescue center.

"Dogs literally cut their teeth on him," she said. "He was a sparring partner with no gloves, so he found a way to escape."

Now, the pit bull, found Aug. 2 and renamed Malachi, is inspiring Zusack and other local animal advocates to raise awareness about dog fighting. The organization is hosting a fundraiser for Malachi at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at Montana's Grizzly Bar in Bluffton. Proceeds will help pay the dog's medical bills, she said.

Leigh West of Bluffton emailed local lawmakers and law-enforcement officers Aug. 10 asking them to investigate.

Beaufort County animal control officers have not seen evidence of organized dog fights since James D. Ling of Bluffton was charged in 2007 with four counts of felony animal cruelty, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Robin McIntosh said.

Investigators are often unable to prove owners are involved in dog fighting, McIntosh said.

"A lot of times when we get the calls, it's after the fact, and when we respond, there's nothing there," she said. "Pit bulls definitely come through Animal Control with scratches, bites and other signs of fighting. We're just not sure it's part of an organized ring or just dogs fighting."

Although local rescuers don't know for sure Malachi was used as a bait dog, they say his missing teeth are indicators.

Owners typically remove bait dogs' teeth so they can't seriously injure the dogs being trained, said Jan Hughes, board member of the Humane Association of the Lowcountry.

"Bait dogs are strong and big, but they don't usually have the propensity to bring another dog down," Hughes said. "Most often, you don't see a lot of bait dogs in shelters because they're used up. Owners will use them until they die."

The pit bull, estimated to be anywhere from 6 months to 2 years old, is now at Zusack's home. He needs dental and heartworm treatment.

Dog behaviorist Kevin McHale of Beaufort will help recondition him to humans and other dogs.

"I think he will be able to live in a family environment," McHale said. "He just needs to learn how to be a dog again."

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