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Local Hero – Combating a Culture

February 24, 2012 by Tails Magazine in Chicago, March 2012 with 0 Comments

Hero Elliott SerranoElliott Serrano works to protect Chicago’s youth and animals

By Brendan Quealy

Elliott Serrano has been at this for a long time. For nearly three decades he has lived and breathed a profession that he believes “found” him. Before he became the humane education specialist for the Anti-Cruelty Society (ACS) in Chicago, Serrano taught special education. Now, he has combined his love for animals with his passion for teaching to help prevent dog fighting by attacking the problem before it begins.

“Like any issue—with anything that involves people—a lot of the real terrible, terrible things we do starts because of ignorance,” says Serrano. “Apathy and ignorance comes from a lack of education.” Serrano points out that ignorance falls on both sides of the issue, as the media often makes false assumptions about the reasons dog fighting exists and thrives in this country. “Beyond just that lack of education, you are also combating a culture,” says Serrano. “I have to emphasize that [dog fighting] is part of the culture, because that is the way these people justify it. You have to understand how people think and why they think that way to get them to change.”

As part of Serrano’s mission to educate the public about dog fighting and to stop the practice altogether, he speaks at youth correctional facilities, schools, churches, and similar places around the Chicagoland area where his expertise is requested. “The group I just had at Cook County Jail was all black kids and one white kid—that white kid knew more about dog fighting than anybody else in that room,” says Serrano. Too much of the time, race complicates the issue because of how dog fighting is portrayed in the media. The blame is often placed on popular culture, rap music, and the glamorization of illegal activity that goes along with it. “I wish there were simple answers, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Serrano. “We have to stop focusing on the person, and focus on the bigger problem. Part of that problem is the way we think.”

Those in the humane education sector understand that reaching out to the children is the best way to bring an end to not only dog fighting, but many other societal ills as well. Serrano has seen this program work. Terrence Murphy, 15, began fighting dogs when he was just 9-years-old, and by age 14 was organizing fights in abandoned buildings on a regular basis. With the combined efforts of Serrano and the ACS, along with Sean Moore of the Humane Society of the United States “End Dog Fighting” campaign, Murphy became a success story. “The problem is that I can tell you time and time again that this is wrong, but if the world that you live in punishes you for empathy, or if you treat an animal with love and compassion, it is tough to fight that,” says Serrano. “We are trying to make a culture of compassion and service and community. We have to make that culture more attractive than that other culture.”

As difficult as it may be to accomplish, there are people dedicating their lives to making sure that it becomes a reality. With all of their efforts, the question still remains if they are making a lasting impact on the city of Chicago and the country as a whole when it comes to dog fighting. “It’s too early to tell if we have done a good job stopping dog fighting or making a difference,” says Serrano. “The problem is that something like this becomes the ‘Cause de Jour’ and then is forgotten about.”

For more information please visit AntiCruelty.org

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