Presa Demand Grows for All Wrong Reasons
Dogs wanted for killing, fighting
San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, February 7, 2001
“They want a pit bull on steroids,” said Mac Harris, a New York breeder. “And these dogs can be just that if they’re raised the wrong way.”
After the killing of Diane Whipple in her Pacific Heights apartment building made national headlines, Presa Canario breeders say, calls and e- mails from prospective buyers have tripled or quadrupled.
Some of those inquiries have been disconcerting: A lawyer wanted protection from his clients, a California kennel owner wanted the “ultimate aggressive dog,” and one man even asked for the very animal that killed Whipple.
And, with the media frenzy in the aftermath of the killing, the Presa Canario — a breed that some law enforcement officials have nervously eyed as the next big thing in the seedy world of dog fighting — may have gotten the push it needed to send sales skyrocketing.
“This could be the next dog of choice among criminals,” said Det. Bob Beals,
a dog-fighting expert with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Breeders voiced the same fears.
“The exact kind of person who should not have a Presa Canario are now the ones asking about it,” said Irina Vyatkin, co-owner of Red Star Kennel in Hudson, Wis. “We have people who want weapons — not dogs.”
After Whipple’s death, breeders like Vyatkin braced themselves for hate e- mail and nasty calls. Instead, they got something very different.
“We receive calls every day from people who are interested in fighting dogs, ” said Vyatkin, who raised the grandmother of the dog that killed Whipple. “One just said: ‘I want a dog that kills.’ “
Tracy Hennings, president of the Presa Canario Club of America, said her Cleveland area kennel used to receive three to five calls a week. Now she logs that many every day. Hennings also received 25 e-mail inquiries last weekend: “I would usually only get one or two in that time,” she said.
MIGHT TO FIGHT
The Presa Canario is valued as a guard dog that can be counted on to protect your home and family, breeders say. But much of the recent interest has come from people who want to know about its fighting potential.
Many queries seem innocuous. But others “ask: ‘Are they any good at fighting? Are they game? You think one of your dogs can take a pit bull?’ These people make me sick,” Hennings said.
The Presa Canario was originally bred for fighting, guarding and some herding in Spain’s Canary Islands. The breed was near extinction by the 1950s and was brought back when it was mixed with mastiffs and others. Introduced in the United States in 1990, there are now more than 1,000, including at least eight that were owned by two Pelican Bay prison inmates. Two of those dogs, including the killer Bane, ended up in Pacific Heights a few months ago at the home of one of the inmates’ attorneys.
So far Presa Canarios are on the fringe of the illegal sport of dog fighting, according to police, experts and Web sites for its many fans.
But there is concern among police that Presa Canarios will be bred with pit bulls and possibly Rottweilers to create a big, mean fighting dog. Pit bulls rarely weigh more than 60 pounds, but Presa Canarios often tip the scales at twice that amount.
“There have been several attempts to create the ultimate canine fighting machine, but it always comes back to the pit bull,” Beals said. “I don’t think these (Presa Canarios) will ever replace the pit bull. But anytime word gets out about a new powerful killer dog, everyone wants to get some and start breeding them.”
DOGS OF CHOICE
For now, most experts agree that American pit bull terriers will remain the top dog when it comes to sport fighting.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s going to be a pit bull (used for dog fighting), even at the street level,” said Det. Chris Sanford of the Galt Police Department, who helped bust one of the West Coast’s largest dog- fighting rings in 1999. “For gangs, the pit bull has that vicious image they want. And for professionals, the pit bull just has the best characteristics.”
The editor of “American Game Dog Times,” a Virginia-based monthly that follows the sport, said “dogmen” — serious dog fighters — wouldn’t be interested in the Presa Canario.
“You don’t want a fighting dog that’s aggressive against humans,” “Fat” Bill Reynolds said. “You can’t train them.”
Dog fighting has grown in popularity in this country and around the world, police and the Humane Society said. It ranges from serious matches where thousands of dollars are wagered on fights in wooden rings to impromptu backyard battles for $20 bets.
In the more formal events, dogmen may bring their animals from hundreds of miles away for championship fights. Winners go on to become breeding stock. Losing dogs that survive the fight are often killed later by their owners.
But most dog fights are more casual affairs in which one guy says his pit bull is tougher than another guy’s dog. They then meet somewhere — from an urban housing project to a cow pasture — and settle the issue.
FEARING A LIFE OF CRIME
Authorities expect that minor league dog fighters and drug dealers will use Presa Canarios mixed with Rottweilers or pit bulls to fight or guard drug labs and pot farms.
For now, Presa Canario breeders, who tout their canines as lovable and loyal, are rattled by the creepy callers.
A lawyer phoned Harris in New York City on Friday in search of a vicious guard dog. Former clients wanted a piece of him, he said.
A Southern California kennel owner called this week, looking for the ”ultimate aggressive dog.”
“He said if it wasn’t aggressive enough when he got it, he’d shoot it,” Harris said.
And Paul Petrowich, who helps run WereWolf Kennel in Ontario, Canada, said he got one particularly eerie call last week. A man was seeking Bane, the dog responsible for mauling Whipple.
“He just said, ‘I want to get a hold of that dog that killed the woman.’ I explained that we had nothing to do with that, but he wasn’t listening. I just hung up.”