Death Row Dogs Get Sanctuary Thanks to Ananda and Olympic Animal Sanctuaries
Last summer, two pit bulls were seized from a known dog fighter by the name of Eduardo Jose Ribaya in Columbia County, and the case wound through the courts for 8 months. Ribaya is a well-known top organizer of large-scale dog fight rings in at least three states. He has been convicted three times in California and Washington for the crime of fighting dogs. Ribaya was caught last July with the two Columbia County dogs, dog fighting equipment, a pit cut into the brush around the property he was using, and dozens of pot plants. For some reason, the County elected not to prosecute Mr. Ribaya but instead condemned the two pit bulls to death. Thanks to Ananda Farm Sanctuary and the Olympic Animal Sanctuary, the dogs will get to live after all.
To understand the heinous nature of the crimes of which Mr. Ribaya has been convicted, you must understand the world of dog fighting. This is far from a victimless crime. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of dogs are abused, kept in deplorable conditions, and forced to fight one another - often to the death - from the time they are puppies. Those who refuse to fight, or are too gentle in the pit, are brutally killed by the humans who organize these fights. The suffering and death associated with dog fighting had usually been veiled from public view, until the spectacle of the Michael Vick case pulled back the veil. According to witnesses, investigators, and confessions in the Michael Vick case, dogs who were not deemed worthy in the fighting pit were beaten to death, drowned, electrocuted, hanged, and killed in all manner of horrific ways for the sadistic satisfaction of onlookers. Many of those dogs had battery electrodes clamped to their bodies and were then thrown into Vick's swimming pool to die. Investigators cringed as they described the marks on the sides of the swimming pool, where desperate dogs had clawed and scratched at the tiles in a frantic effort to save their own lives. Vick is reported to have laughed as they died.
According to those who follow the shadowy world of dog fighting, Michael Vick's reprehensible behavior is the norm. It is the rule, not the exception, among people who profit from the suffering of animals. And Eduardo Ribaya, who calls himself the "pineapple kid," is no exception. In February of 1995, Ribaya had organized a fight in a San Francisco warehouse involving dozens of dogs and nearly a hundred people. When police raided the event, they arrested 75 people after finding a blood-soaked fighting pit, trophies meant to be awarded to the "owners" of the dogs who fought the hardest, drugs, and at least $50,000 in cash. They also found two dogs who had been killed, including one that had been thrown against a wall until his neck was broken - there was still a bloody stain on the wall above him, where his "owner" had taken out his violent rage against the dog for not being vicious enough in the pit. Ribaya was convicted on dog fighting charges, and sentenced to 3 years of probation.
Less than a year after his conviction, in June of 1996, Ribaya was again arrested, this time in Alameda County, California. At least 44 dogs were seized on that occasion, all neglected, mal-nourished, chained, and living in filth. The dogs were all killed by their "rescuers," and Ribaya was again convicted - this time of felony animal cruelty. He spent a little time behind bars, but resurfaced in Vancouver, Washington in 2003 when police received a complaint of possible animal cruelty. Police responded, and found Ribaya living on a piece of farm property. Suspecting that he might be fighting dogs again, an officer warned him to get out of the business. According to an affidavit filed by the animal control officer, Ribaya responded that dog fighting is "big money."
Apparently so, because in October of 2004, he was arrested yet again for dog fighting. Police had been tipped off to the presence of a dog fighting ring, and showed up with a warrant at the property where Ribaya had been living. They found dogs, again chained up and living in squalor, and litters of rabbits. (Rabbits are used to "bait" the dogs - a cruel and grisly means of encouraging the dogs to kill.) Officers seized dog fighting equipment, syringes and other supplies meant to patch dogs back together after a fight, steroids meant to turn dogs into fighting machines, breeding records, fight records, CDs detailing training and outcomes of fights, entries tracking fights between various dogs, and nearly two dozen pit bulls - again living in poor conditions and obviously abused and neglected. All of the dogs were seized, and although I do not know for sure, I believe that most, if not all, were probably killed. This has been standard procedure for dogs seized from fighters until very recently.
Among the items seized from Ribaya in the Vancouver raid were photographs of dogs being forced to attack other animals including a live boar. This is a man who gets off on cruelty and violence. He was convicted once again.
Then, last summer, sheriffs were called to a remote piece of farm property in Columbia County after a 911 caller alerted them that a calf was being attacked by dogs. When they arrived, they found that a calf had wandered into an enclosure where two neglected and emaciated pit bulls had been chained up. The dogs had attacked the calf. (For those who do not know, chaining a dog is cruel. It's highly stressful, and tends to make them a little crazy. A dog who is chained cannot flee from danger, and is aware of this, so they become extremely territorial about the small area marked out by their chain. This is one reason why dog fighters chain their dogs - to make them aggressive.) Deputies seized the dogs, and also found dog fighting equipment, a pit cut into the brush, and dozens of pot plants. But for some reason, they failed to bother with any further investigation, and never even bothered to charge Ribaya with a crime. They neglected to seek out a search warrant, never looked to see if any other dogs were on the property, never sought any records, never even went into the house. In a state where citizens have elected to make dog fighting a felony, the law enforcement officers never even pursued a single charge against this three time convicted dog fighter. They would later claim that they didn't follow up because they "didn't have the resources."
Now, I am not one to advocate for criminal charges or jail for most people. But for those who torture and harm innocent animals, I'm all for it. And I can't imagine how law enforcers could have claimed not to have the resources for an easy case like this, when all over the state animal advocates are being jailed for animal-related thought crimes. Why are people who work to save animals from oppression hunted down and prosecuted, while people who torture and kill animals are just let go?
In any event, Ribaya was so brazen about his role as a dog fighter that he actually sued the county to get his dogs back. The case took months, but he lost, and the County subsequently ordered the dogs to be put to death. Workers from Ananda Farm Sanctuary heard about the case in the week before Ribaya's timeline to appeal ran out - that is, the week that was to have been the last for these dogs, had they not been rescued. In a desperate effort to save the dogs, Ananda workers contacted the office of the judge who had signed the final order to kill the dogs. They asked for clemency, and were told that it was "up to the county." Workers then contacted Columbia County Animal Control, where the dogs were being held in isolation cells. An animal Control staffer by the name of "Lisa" told them it was "up to the judge" and that as the decision had been rendered, there was nothing that could change it. Ananda workers then contacted the commissioners, and managed to talk the commissioners into allowing them to find sanctuary for the dogs instead of having them killed. County officials, who had had custody of the dogs for 8 months, said that they had tried to find a suitable placement for the dogs but were unable to do so. They said the dogs could only be released to an extremely secure facility, and could not be adopted out to the public, and they did not think such a facility could be found. Ananda workers were given a week to find an appropriate facility, and if such a place could be located, they were given an additional 30 days to get the dogs there.
Anyone involved in dog rescues knows that finding space for two pit bulls can be very tricky indeed. Finding space for two dogs with a history of animal aggression and a past with a dog fighter can be almost impossible. Ananda workers reached out across the country, to virtually every dog rescue organization in the United States. Many pit bull rescues refuse to take dogs with any history of aggression at all, because they are very touchy about the undeserved negative image that these dogs have. They want to showcase the many pit bulls who are *not* aggressive, and they do not want to "waste resources" on the dogs that have issues. Ananda workers were told by more than one rescue group to just let the county kill the dogs because, as one 'rescuer' explicitly stated, "there are so many homeless pits who are good dogs, why waste resources on the bad ones?"
But Ananda workers refused to give up on these dogs, believing they were victims of violence who deserved mercy and compassion, and did not deserve to be killed. After quite an effort, they found two places willing to take the dogs, but neither of those places could meet all of the necessary criteria - there were security guidelines set forth by the county to keep the public safe, and there were criteria that Ananda workers have for the well being of any animal that they help to place. At the last moment, however, Steve Markwell of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Northern Washington agreed to take both of the dogs. This was awesome news, because according to Ananda staff, Steve is "one of the best there is when it comes to dogs with behavior issues." The Olympic Animal Sanctuary was actually the first choice of Ananda workers, but initially, the Washington sanctuary just did not have space for the dogs. Given that the Olympic Animal Sanctuary is fairly small, and one of the only sanctuaries in the country able to handle, as they say, "dogs everyone else wants dead," the facility is almost always full to capacity. They are careful only to take in dogs whom they have the space and resources to care for, so there is usually a very long waiting list. But a team effort between the two sanctuaries resulted in redemption for two little pit bulls who deserve to live.
The dogs were transported to a vet in Columbia County over the weekend, where a worker from Ananda Farm Sanctuary paid to have them fully vetted. They arrived in alarming condition. After 8 months at the pound, the dogs were thin, dirty, infested with worms, and covered with open and untreated wounds. The male weighed only 40 lbs, with his back bone showing through his skin. As soon as they arrived, the dogs were bathed, petted, and fed. That afternoon they were spayed and neutered, vaccinated, and tested for heart worm. The following day they were treated for worms and for fleas. They were to have been transported to sanctuary in Washington on Monday, but at the last moment the County backed out of the transport and said that the commissioners needed to meet to decide whether to really release the dogs. This caused some anxious moments for Ananda staff, who were not told when the meeting would take place - Commissioners did not return calls or emails. However, it was finally determined that the commissioners would consider the issue during a closed executive session. That meeting happened this morning at 10am, and finally, the dogs have been granted the right to live their lives free of the abuse and neglect they have known since they were born.
In spite of some communication glitches, Ananda workers credit the county commissioners and Roger Kadell of Columbia County Animal Control with allowing them to pursue sanctuary for these dogs. Ananda was quick to note that most dogs seized from dog fighters are not given a chance like this, and that the county's agreement to work with a sanctuary to give new life to these dogs has been "visionary." There is a growing movement to treat dogs seized in fighting raids as victims rather than just condemning them to death without any due process of law. As more dogs are rescued from these situations, our understanding grows: We are learning that former fighting dogs can be rehabilitated after all, and that being bred and exploited by a fighter is not grounds to kill a dog.
The Columbia County dogs will continue to be boarded at the vet until they are transported up to sanctuary. The County needs to complete some paperwork, have the dogs micro-chipped, and inspect the sanctuary in preparation for the transfer, so Ananda workers are eagerly waiting for that. In the meantime, Ananda workers visit the dogs every day, playing with them, bringing them vegan dog biscuits and chew toys. Said one Ananda worker who - like all Ananda workers - asked not to be named, "I can't believe how sweet these dogs are, even after everything they've been through."
(In news articles about these dogs, Columbia County officials were quoted as saying that the dogs are "an accident waiting to happen," and that they are very aggressive. A staff member named "Lisa" at Columbia County Animal Control said that she felt the dogs were human aggressive, but when she was asked what she based that on she said, "It's just something about them. When you go into their kennel they jump all over you. I'm not comfortable with that." Ananda workers who have been visiting and interacting with the dogs report that they do, in fact, jump up with wagging tails, because surprisingly, they are extremely friendly and are starved for human company. A behaviorist who visited the dogs reported no evidence of human aggression, but some evidence of aggression toward other dogs - not surprising considering their former lives as fighters. Markwell expects to take a long time to evaluate them, but no matter their behavior, they will never be killed. These dogs are safe at last.)
You can reach Ananda Farm Sanctuary at AnandaFAR(at)gmail(dot)com.
You can learn more about the Olympic Animal Sanctuary by visiting http://www.olympicanimalsanctuary.org/.
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