The Philadelphia Eagles have Michael Vick leading them into this weekend's playoff game. With Vick, comes controversy. The Eagles are giving the Humane Society money to try to tackle dogfighting in Philadelphia, by setting up a program like ones in Chicago and Atlanta.
Becca Glenn-Dinwoodie is standing in a park in Hunting Park, North Philadelphia watching a dog running energetic laps on a big patch of grass, under the watchful eye of its owner. Glenn-Dinwoodie's mission as the coordinator for the End Dogfighting campaign in Philadelphia, is to target this community.
"There's a lot of need in Hunting Park," Glenn-Dinwoodie said. "It's not only a big hotbed for dogfighting in the city, there's also a lot of violence, there's a lot of gang activity, and there's a lot of drug activity in Hunting Park."
Glenn-Dinwoodie says the campaign includes outreach through community events, low cost spay and neuter offers, and what she calls the crowning achievement of the campaign, the Pit Bull Training Team. The team leads dog owners and their pets--including lots of younger owners--through obedience and agility training. The hope is to build healthy connections with their dogs.
"Through that we can avoid some gang activity, we can avoid drugs activity, we can avoid some of the violence," she said.
Shawn "Frogg" Banks lived that life. He grew-up in North Philadelphia and is now a community organizer who's recruiting participants for the pit bull training classes.
"It's kind of therapeutic for me cause I wasn't never a pit bull fighter but me being a former drug dealer, I did advocate and betting on some of them dog fights--until the situation with Mike Vick bringin' light to the situation," said Banks. "I didn't know I was doing something bad even betting on it because even being part of it is a felony. I was just as guilty as whoever was fighting the dogs."
Banks says a lot of his friends--from the life he left 15 years ago--fought dogs,
"I was in a gang called Zulu Nation in the area I grew up in around Diamond, Susquehanna, Berks, and Lehigh," Banks said. "I went to one particular fight and I guy I was doing business with and he took me just to show me. and I was like 'Wow,' not just seeing what I saw but the money that was being bet on these dogs. "
Banks says he tries to put the dogfighters and at-risk dog owners, at ease by telling them it's not a sting, it's just a chance to get some good training for their dogs.
"My job is, since I ran the hood and the streets and I'm good with the hood, and the hood respect me, is to go back through the hood and let them know this is What Shawn Banks is a part of right now," he said. "Dogfighting is not cool. You gotta treat these animals with respect."
A few blocks from the park, Banks points down a narrow alley that's only about two and a half feet wide. He says the dogs make it uninviting--a perfect place for all sorts of criminal activity.
"You know how some people have a meeting place in a board room? This is a hood board room right here," he said.
Banks has a quick dose of first hand experience for anyone who doubts the prevalence of dogfighting in Philadelphia.
"By me being a drug dealer and sittin' in closed meetins and in back lots and in alleys in North Philly and sitting in some of these rowhomes where you might think it's abandoned but when you go inside you see it's set up for a dog fighting facility, and there's big bucks in that," he said. "It's a big problem here in Philly. It's been swept under the rug for so many years."
At a pit bull training class in Chicago, many of the participants where kids. Banks hopes to tap into the same demographic in Philadelphia, and to keep kids who own dogs from caving to peer pressure or the lure of easy money and fighting them.
In addition to the challenge of recruiting participants for the training classes, Glenn-Dinwoodie says the group's also trying to find a spot to hold classes in the future. Finding a neighborhood location, where people don't mind having a bunch of other people show up with their pit bulls, isn't easy.
Glenn-Dinwoodie says the first trainings were held at the PSPCA headquarters on Erie Avenue over the last few weeks. She says there's been success in the early sessions. In one, a four month old puppy flew over the hurdles in the agility course.
"You should have seen this dog just launching off the top of A frames, just having a blast," she said. "His owner was having a blast. And that's what it's about: to teach these kids and teach these folks that there's another way you can deal with your dog and you can get that pride through it."