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Ed Boks, the director of New York City Animal Care & Control, says the blame for pit bulls' negative image is shared equally by the presswhich is fascinated by pit bull attacksand breeders who take advantage of the dogs. "Pit bulls are actually a rather stable breed," says Boks. "The thing about pit bulls is that they are stuck with this bad reputation. They are extraordinarily loyal and loving animals and they will fight to the death just to please you."
At two months old, Eison's puppies are more concerned with fighting their way out of the old paint bucket he is bathing them in. "All of these dogs have good tempers," Eison says over the sound of splashing water and the din of the LIRR train speeding past his backyard on elevated tracks. "These dogs were born to fight, but they have the potential to be the sweetest dogs. This one is just like his dadhe's one of the most playful dogs, but when it comes down to business, he'll get down."
Unlike his father, though, the puppy hates baths. When he's freed from Eison's soapy clutches he chases his sisters, wrestling with them in the muddy corners of the yard, swiftly undoing Eison's efforts to keep them clean. He establishes a dominant position so his sisters can't flee and bites on their ears, eliciting hoarse, juvenile yelps and showing signs of what he might one day be capable of.
After Eison bathes them, he force-feeds his dogs a deworming solution. The puppies stagger around coughing and trying to spit up, as Eison tries to keep track of which ones he has given the medicine to. Next he cleans their pen, refills their water buckets, and gives them fresh food. As he works, the puppies try to enter the house through a screen door with a broken latch and force their way into Eison's recently scrubbed back porch, from there into his meticulously kept two-story house. When he opens the door to expel one puppy, two more charge in. They will never be allowed to stay inside, just as they will never be taught to roll over or give him a high five or fetch his slippers.
People have always selectively bred and trained dogs to emphasize certain traits, says ASPCA animal behaviorist Steve Zawistowski. Aggression, he says, can be bred out just as it can be bred in. "We've selected dogs that represent human aspects of caring and friendliness and compassion," said Zawistowski. "With pit bulls, we've created a dog that combines loyalty with instances of intense aggression. The dog now represents an edgy part of our society." Which is evidenced, he says, by the names people give them.
Dogs like Rock and Conan (now deceased) are so accurate a reflection of Eison's mentality that he wants all the others to aspire to their temperament. He considers them members of his family. "If you don't have any children, you don't stay on this earth. But if you have children you're always here. So I'm going to make Rock live forever," he says.
At 12 weeks, the brown puppy was still unwilling to play rough. Eison initially liked him because he looked like his father, Rock, but he remained smaller and more timid than his littermates. Eison says Lady, the puppy's mother, would have killed the runt herself if he hadn't intervened. Eison says he sold him for $2,000 to a friend. About a month later he sold a second puppy for another $2,000, keeping only the most aggressive boy and girl for himself.
They will fight to the death just to please you.
photo: Anthony J. Causi.
While backyard breeders aren't necessarily doing anything illegal, shelter officials blame them for the abundance of homeless bull breeds, many of them unstable. On a recent visit to shelters in Brooklyn and Manhattan about half of the dogs in custody were pits or pit mixes. The dogs escape from yards, slip away when their masters aren't watching them, or end up in shelters when their owners are arrested or evicted, according to Brooklyn Animal Care supervisor Joyce Clemmons. When the owners come to retrieve their animals they usually don't mention that they're breeders until she brings up the city policy of mandatory fixing of all dogs in city shelters before they're released. The potential financial loss is not the only reason some owners object. "The men always say, 'You're taking my manhood away.' We get that every week. They say that they can't walk the dog in their neighborhood anymore because people will see that his testicles are gone. They are adamant about it," Clemmons says.
As he sits at the conference table in his storefront real estate office, Eison agrees it would be embarrassing to be seen with a neutered dog. On this early summer afternoon, his wife, Chandra, is in the office using the phone and fax machine to wrangle with the Crime Victims Board over her son Glen's case. The walls are covered with portraits of black leaders. A placard on Eison's desk reads, "Relax, God's in charge." Eison takes a Popsicle break and attempts to debunk the logic of mandatory neutering and spaying at city shelters. "Their opinion is that we shouldn't breed, but at the same time they shouldn't be so quick to spay dogs, to take away what God gave them." Dogs are like cars or clothes, he says; people want name brands, not the kind of generic dog you can get at a shelter. With his dogs, people will know they're getting a high-caliber product. He says his bloodline is the Mercedes-Benz of dog breeds.