By Kristina Buen
A recent Chicago Police Department study linked dogfighting to violence toward humans and other criminal activity, such as theft and illegal drug use or possession. Tio Hardiman, community activist and founder of the Chicago Campaign to Stop Animal Fighting, is on a mission to decrease the number of dogfighting incidents in Chicago, especially those involving Pit Bulls. We talked to Hardiman about why he believes dogfighting hurts both animals and people and what inspires him on his mission.
Growing up on the West and South Sides, did you see a lot of violence toward animals?
I grew up in a rough neighborhood where animals were looked at as nonexistent. In some cases, violence toward animals had become a cultural norm. People were desensitized toward the violence that took place in these communities, so the animals were the first creatures they would lash out on. Sometimes, it would progress to committing crimes against humans.
Why do you think young people today are gravitating toward dogfighting?
First, it’s a status symbol to have a Pit Bull. Second, they want to make a little bit of money. Third, they get into it for the excitement of the blood sport. They feel that Pit Bulls were born to fight.
What made you want to start a campaign against dogfighting?
I had been working in violence prevention, stopping guys from shooting one another, for about 10 years. When I would mediate conflicts with these guys, Pit Bulls with signs of abuse were often present. I thought it wasn’t right for me to overlook the fact that they’re abusing these animals.
How is your campaign trying to change the negative image of Pit Bulls?
My group of volunteers educates [people with] Pit Bulls on dogfighting and the law, especially on the West Side. We also offer alternatives to dogfighting, such as getting their dogs involved in agility competitions. As a long-term goal, we want them to take classes at the Anti-Cruelty Society and maybe get them into the animal-rescue profession one day.
Are the people you talk to generally receptive?
Believe it or not, we’ve gotten a strong response because it’s something new. There’s no one out there talking about dogfighting in the inner city on a street level. I have a group of 15 men who are involved in positive Pit Bull training. They used to fight their dogs.
How is your campaign different from legal intervention?
The main difference is that we can prevent dogfighting. The police may get a call once a dog has been severely torn to pieces. With my street credibility, I have insider knowledge on where dogfights may occur. I can also persuade people into not fighting their dogs in a way that the police can’t.
Your campaign also rescues Pit Bulls from dogfighters. Where do the rescued dogs go? Can they be retrained?
To be honest, it’s hard to place Pit Bulls. I’ve taken two dogs in with me. Many of them go to friends. We’ve worked with rescue groups. The dogs can be retrained, depending on their level of training and the level of trauma they’ve experienced. If you find the right trainer who shows them love and respect, I’m sure that some can come around.
What are your thoughts on the dogfighting laws in Chicago?
The current dogfighting laws are good. However, it’s so hard to catch a dogfighter in the act. Most guys will kill their dogs if they feel that the police are closing in on them.
How have the events surrounding Michael Vick impacted your mission?
It’s brought awareness to our mission. It’s helped us in its own tragic way. We’ve gotten a good response from people who want to get involved.
What inspires you to do the work that you do?
I was born on September 21, the International Day of Peace. I have a natural love for all living creatures. If I can help something I see right in front of me, I want to do it. When you’re born to do something, you can’t run away from your calling.
For more information, contact Hardiman at firstname.lastname@example.org.