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Speaking for the dogs: Cydney Cross, cofounder of Out of the Pits. Photo byKate Sipher

Taking the Fight Out of ’Em

Thirteen pit bulls from a dogfighting ring are put to death in Schenectady, raising debate on whether there is a better solution

To breeding aficionados, Rapid Roy had everything you’d look for in a stud: tenacity, endurance, an iron jaw. But given the singular vision of his training, some animal experts believe his every trait epitomizes danger to the public at large.

“Rapid Roy was a champion,” said Gordon Willard, executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation of Schenectady. “He would do what he was trained to do as easily as a retriever runs after a ball and brings it back. And he would do it with the same proficiency and the same zeal that any other animal would do its job. He was a star.”

But the traits with which the pit bull earned his legendary status were what led to his death. Rapid Roy, highly sought after in the world of dogfighting for his services as a stud, was one of 13 pit bulls put to death by the foundation on Sept. 4.

The dogs were confiscated as physical evidence in the cases against their former owners, Christine and Thomas Provencher, both facing a total of 29 animal-cruelty and drug-related charges in Schenectady County Court. The pit bulls were put down two months after the couple failed to post the court-ordered $24,872 bond for the dogs’ care.

“Because of scumbag people, the dogs had to pay,” said Cydney Cross, president and cofounder of the animal rescue foundation Out of the Pits. “The dogs are the victims in all of this.”

The death of the 13 dogs raises the issue of whether an animal bred to fight is a menace to society and should be put to death, or should have other options available for it. Animal-care advocates like Cross believe that with institutions like hers, dogs like Rapid Roy have a chance at life outside of the ring.

But considering the way the 13 pit bulls were bred and raised, Willard said there was no alternative for the dogs but euthanasia.

“The dogs themselves had no other option—they were bred to fight,” said Willard. “If released, they would’ve been found and would have gone back to where they were designed to go [the world of dogfighting].”

Cross said she could have, and did, offer another option for the animals.

“We offered to take the puppies and attend to them so they would not be allowed to go back with the people, but nothing came of that,” said Cross. “The older dogs maybe weren’t suitable for placement, but there would’ve been options for the puppies. The fallacy with game-bred dogs is that they can’t be rehabilitated.”

Cross said that some of the most amazing dogs she ever adopted were former fighting dogs. In fact, one of the pit bulls that she rescued from the fighting world, Alexis, has gone on to become a therapy dog working with recovering alcoholics and people in nursing homes and prisons.

But Cross may be outnumbered on this matter. Sandy Christiansen, director of field services for the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County, agrees with Willard. He said that with dogs trained and bred to fight like Rapid Roy, the dangers outweigh the success stories.

“With dogs that are so purposefully bred for fighting, animal shelters are being put in compromising positions,” said Christiansen. “You need to be selective when considering what kind of homes the dogs will be put in. If a dog is predisposed to aggression and the worst does happen, are you going to be OK with having taken that risk?”

Considering the motives and meticulousness with which breeders and trainers in the world of dogfighting turn pit bulls into killing machines, Christiansen said the 13 dogs could have met worse fates.

“Euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to a dog,” said Christiansen. “When they’ve been set up to go against other dogs and to rip each other to shreds, there aren’t many other options.”

Christiansen described the training of fighting dogs, paraphrasing a how-to book by Ed and Chris Faron, The Complete Game Dog, which contains a biography of Rapid Roy.

“There are different methods for keeping dogs trained to fight,” said Christiansen. “Spring poles provides resistance and a hide or something is attached so a dog can pull backwards and work their jaws and neck. There are exercises like the treadmills for sprint work and endurance. Different exercises have different roles in terms of how they are used in athletic or performance-based activity.”

Dogfighting is currently classified as a felony under New York state’s cruelty to animals law, with punishment for the crime carrying a sentence of one-and-a-third to four years. While state law currently considers dogfighting an act of animal cruelty, Willard views it as more than that. And he wants local law enforcement to pay more attention to dogfighting.

“I think that dogfighting is more than a little repulsive,” said Willard. “But how do you stop human beings from doing these horrible things? I don’t know. I don’t have that answer.”

—Travis Durfee

What’s It Worth to You?

The Albany schools, the city, and neighbors of a proposed new middle school square off over the value of Westland Hills Park

Park it elsewhere: Patricia Maxon and Paul D’Oronzio.. Photo by John Whipple

Plans for Albany’s proposed middle school in Westland Hills Park may have been thrown off schedule by a lawsuit filed Friday in state Supreme Court.

The lawsuit, filed by Westland Hills residents Paul D’Orinzio and Patricia Maxon, alleges that the mishandling of the school proposal by the city of Albany, the Albany Common Council and Albany City School District threatens to purge Westland Hills Park of its recreational usefulness.

“I bought my house because it is on a dead-end street with a park on the end,” said Maxon. “I’m not a tennis player, or Little League person. I really use the park as a nonstructured, green, quiet place, and the acreage where this happens may disappear, especially with a parking lot in the middle of the park.”

The school district is proposing the construction of what would be Albany’s third middle school to house 650 children in grades six, seven and eight. The building itself is expected to be three stories covering 140,000-square feet, with a $29-million price tag. The lawsuit represents a serious roadblock in ACSD’s time frame for submitting for building permits by Dec. 1.

As they currently stand, the district’s building plans call for use of 2.8 acres in Westland Hills Park for the school, but the lawsuits’ petitioners claim that building the school will use far more land than has been quoted on paper.

“The only way that the school meets the acreage requirement in the park is if it takes up 16 acres in the park,” said D’Orinzo. “If they take up the 16 acres, the park is gone.”

Jeffrey Honeywell, attorney for ACSD, said he has looked over the lawsuit and said it is “wholly without merit.”

“We are asking the city to alienate 2.8 acres,” said Honeywell. “The belief that the city school district will use more than that is an incorrect conclusion. We’re going to build a middle school, and parkland will be used for gym class, but it won’t be barring parkland for private use.”

In taking land from the park to build a new school, the school district must meet the requirements of the New York state conversion law, which states that an equal parcel of land must be converted to city parkland by ACSD. Six other sites throughout the city are being explored as possible sites to convert into parkland, but none were of equal value to the plot in Westland Hills Park. But last week, the school district took a new tack: It announced that the land in Westland Hills Park was worthless due to contamination.

The Westland Hills plot, initially appraised by both the city and ACSD at $140,000, was deemed without value by the district when it announced that $480,000 in cleanup costs would be needed. The park rests on top of an old junkyard and is contaminated with old construction debris and motor oil. While some view the school district’s announcement as a way to push through the land swap, district officials claimed they’ve known all along that the park was contaminated, a contention that raises the ire of the neighborhood residents and the distrust of one local politician.

“Before they realized there were all these problems,” said Ward 12 Albany Alderman Michael O’Brien, “they had the general services commissioner from the city walk the park and assure the council that he saw no obvious contamination issues. There are all these little subtle things, like ‘Oh, it’s not contaminated. Don’t worry about it.’ ‘Oops, it is! Let’s deduct that from the price of the land.’ Very duplicitous.”

Both O’Brien and residents neighboring the park worry that if the pollution exists in the school plot, it may exist throughout the park. This is something ACSD denies.

“All the testing that we have done indicates that any pollution or environmental hazard is limited to that area,” said Lonnie Palmer, Albany schools superintendent. “[Department of general services commissioner] Willard Bruce indicated that they have done testing at several other locations throughout the park and had found no hazards.”

But O’Brien called this “bullshit.”

“I find it ridiculous that you take a few steps in this direction and you’re on polluted land, take a few steps in the other direction and you’re on safe land,” said O’Brien. “At one point they were lying.”

Palmer said the contamination was well-known when this spot was chosen, and maintained that all the proper steps have been followed according to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (legislation requiring review of a project’s environmental impact).

D’Orinzo and Maxon said their neighborhood is not against a new middle school in Albany, but they wonder why the school district is continuing to press ahead with building on this site when there are so many problems associated with it.

Maxon argued that the neighborhood is already hemmed in by development and that building a school in Westland Hills Park will be one more nail in the coffin.

“Really, the park is the distinguishing feature of our neighborhood,” said Maxon. “In actuality, our neighborhood has pressure on us from all directions, and if we lose this park, we’re just a bunch of houses between highways and under airplanes.”

—T.D.


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