Residents fear for safety of their cats Owners suspect animals are used to train pit bulls

September 22, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Cats are disappearing from Patterson Park neighborhoods at an alarming rate, and their owners are blaming pit bull breeders.

Residents accuse the breeders of stealing the pets and using them as live bait to train the dogs as prize fighters.

Two reports of dead cats found in the Southeast Baltimore park since Thursday have been confirmed. One was reportedly tied to a children's swing and allowed to be mauled and mutilated by a pit bull to give the dog "a taste of blood," a flier warning about the abductions says.

Angry residents say cats -- both with homes and strays -- used to be prevalent around the park.

"You don't see any cats on the street now," said Karen Braun, who lives on the west side of the park and has two cats of her own, Fuzz and Gabby. "We are doing our best to keep them inside. They like to go outside, but not anymore."

Dog fights in Baltimore have become so frequent that the City Council in July passed a law prohibiting them. The law forbids training attack dogs -- which might be used by drug dealers to protect their stash houses -- and allows the city to more easily destroy dogs involved in frequent attacks.

A federal court trial involving a convicted drug-lord revealed the inner workings of the fights, one of which had a written contract, a purse of $10,000 and was to be held in a vacant rowhouse with spectators and gamblers gathered around a "blood pit."

bTC Braun said she came home on Thursday and saw a man petting her neighbor's cat on the front steps. She said she went inside and emerged a moment later to see the man walking down the street with a bulging backpack.

"The cat was gone, and the guy met up with another guy walking a pit bull," Braun said, adding she watched them disappear into Patterson Park. The next day, she said, the cat was found mutilated.

Robert Anderson, director of Baltimore's Animal Shelter, confirmed finding the dead cats. But he could not confirm the report that the mutilated cat had been mauled by a pit bull -- though he said that is a common tactic used by illegal trainers.

"We had been told the cat had been tied to a swing by a hook," Anderson said. "We found the cat, but it wasn't near the swings. " He said it was impossible to determine whether it was dead or alive when it was torn apart.

Police said they received one call about the incident from the animal group, The Animals' Agenda, on Friday, but did not file an official report because the owners of the dead cats did not come forward.

Maj. Timothy Longo, commander of the Southeastern District, said the reports have persuaded him to conduct a police sweep targeting unleashed dogs roaming the park.

"It appears that irresponsible dog owners are utilizing cats as sport to encourage their dogs to fight," Longo said. "We're going to coordinate with animal control to do an aggressive crackdown on the vicious dogs in the Patterson Park area. We take this very seriously."

Fliers throughout the neighborhood show a picture of a cat, describe the incident that Braun saw and graphically describe how cats are used to train pit bulls to fight.

Braun and Longo said they blame the pit bull owners, and not the pit bulls, for this practice.

Marilyn Z. Galinn, who is raising her son's pit bull, Messiah, at her Pikesville home, defended the much maligned animals, saying hers is a timid dog who plays with her 2-year-old grandson and cowers at the sight of frogs.

"It makes me angry that certain people are training these dogs to be killer animals," Galinn said. "They have a horrible reputation as it is. You train them to kill and they will kill. You train them to love and they will love."

Anderson said he is recommending that cat owners keep their animals inside, not just because they are targets for thieves, but because letting them roam free exposes them to disease, rodents and dogs.

"If you have a cat, do not let it out of the house," he said. "It's healthiest for the cat."

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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