Man's Best Defense

Tyler Eison turns pit bull pups into deadly weapons

"These are not normal dogs," says Tyler Eison, gazing reverently at a litter of seven-week-old pit bull puppies. "I like having very vicious, angry dogs. I'm going to teach them not to like other dogs. I'm going to agitate them, make them aggressive. That way when it's about business, they are going to be serious."

As a real estate investor and auto dealer, Eison, 41, values aggression in his dogs for protecting both himself and his property. "My dogs are my pistols," he says, cracking a gold-tooth smile. "I have my dogs on my property, and I have faith in them. If they're coming at you, you have to shoot them to kill them."

Tough people want tough dogs, but if you want a truly vicious dog you have to create it yourself. With his latest litter of three girls and a boy, Eison is trying to re-create a bloodline of fighting dogs he owned 20 years ago (though he insists his fighting days are long over). He's making a stud dog out of his prized companion Rock, an eerily silent pit bull with a golden brown coat and pink nose. Rock's first litter was born in early May, and Eison watched its progress daily to see which of the puppies would develop more of their father's traits.

Tough puppy love: Eison with his recruits
photo: Matthew Salacuse
Tough puppy love: Eison with his recruits

Eison kennels the pups in a fenced-in corner of his backyard, in a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes in St. Albans, Queens. When the dogs get older, he'll move them to another house nearby, where his wife and stepchildren live, and where he keeps his adult dogs—a Cane Corso and three pit bulls—in large pens out back. He has three more dogs, two Cane Corsos and a Rottweiler, at friends' houses.

Hoping to turn Rock's offspring into deadly weapons, Eison started antagonizing them when they were around nine weeks old. One afternoon he held an all-brown puppy by its midsection and for several minutes forced it to lie across the neck of one its sisters, who Eison believes might be the pick of the litter. Eison didn't think the brown pup was willing enough to play rough, so he decided to force it into a scrum. After a minute or so, its sister became angry and began to growl and bite the brown one's ears. After the incident the brown puppy cowered under a metallic-blue racing motorcycle Eison keeps in the backyard and peed.

Eison's love for pit bulls goes back to his childhood. At nine years old, he was spending the night at his grandparents' house when a heater caught fire. Eison was asleep on the couch; the family's pit bull mix nipped him on the leg until he woke up and roused his grandparents, saving their lives. The dog had been feral, Eison says, but people in the neighborhood paid top dollar for her puppies.

Ten years later, in the late '80s, Eison's car was rear-ended. An argument erupted as two men leapt out of the other car. One of them said he was going to get something out of his trunk. Eison guessed this something was a gun, so he wasted no time in loosing Conan on him. "I wasn't going to let him kill me, so my dog took care of him," he remembers. "I sicced my dog on that guy, man, and beat the other one up myself. I had no choice."

Eison's belief that his dogs offer essential protection in his sometimes rough neighborhood was only reinforced last month when his stepson Glen Moore, 22, was hit in the head with a baseball bat in Howard Beach, in what authorities are calling a bias crime. The attack, says Eison, never would have happened if Moore had had one of the dogs with him.

Basically purebred mutts, pit bulls were developed from the crossbreeding of bull- and bear-baiting dogs with terriers used in rat-baiting competitions. The result was a canine with the tremendous jaw pressure of a bulldog and the athleticism and ferocity of a terrier, which kills its prey by grabbing it in its mouth and whipping it from side to side. With his bloodline, Eison is trying to emphasize the violence of a terrier's bite, while losing nothing of a pit bull's agility and intelligence. He has mated Rock with an all-white English bull terrier named Lady. The result, he hopes, will be dogs of 45 to 50 pounds that can more than hold their own against dogs twice their size. He'll mate the best female of this first litter with her father. This inbreeding—called linebreeding—will help Eison isolate the traits he seeks.

Studies have suggested that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous. In evaluations by the American Temperament Testing Society, the pit bull passed at a rate of 83.4 percent, just below the beloved golden retriever and 4.5 points higher than the collie. That said, the city's shelters reported that almost 6,000 bull breeds (pit bulls and pit bull mixes) were admitted in the last fiscal year. Though they represent 37 percent of all dogs in city shelters, bull breeds accounted for almost half of the 7,136 dogs euthanized in shelters last year. Pit bulls are routinely adopted, but shelter officials say a disproportionate number can't be because they haven't been socialized properly. Some have spent their whole lives in cages.

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