Since meeting them in person it seems like I’ve become friends with Jeff and Larry and Cindy. They’ve invited me over a few times now. I haven’t had the nerve to go by myself, so my brother has gone with me, and Lou.
They live at the end of a street of small houses. The area still feels rural but they live within a mile of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and the other usual suburban big boxes. Larry is middle-aged and was working in construction when we first met, but now he has since been laid off because of an injury. Cindy stays at home to take care of the dogs, and to make sure that they are not stolen. Their home is modest, but tidy. Cindy has always just vacuumed when I arrive, I can see the rows in straight lines on the carpet. Individual wood-framed photos of each dog cover the living room and bedroom walls, amidst dream-catchers, a gun rack, and an inspirational poster that says:
Ashtrays and coasters line a side table next to puppy pictures of Cody and Honey, two of their favorite pit bulls.
The family's computers are prominent: on a desk at the foot of Larry's bed, where he frequently shouts what people have posted on the site out loud into the living room, in Jeff’s small bedroom (which you can only get to by going through Larry’s bedroom), and there’s even a laptop in the corner of the living room. Most of our conversations center around the website and how it can improve the public's perception of the breed.
The other main topic of conversation is their dogs. While Larry sits at the computer, Roscoe, their house dog, continually jumps up and down from Larry’s bed, playing with a knotted sock. The other dogs must be kept away from Roscoe and each other. Their pit bull yard is like most, from what I can tell: the dogs are kept on individual chain spaces secured by an axle sunk at least two feet in the ground. A twelve-foot tie-out chain is affixed to the axle on a swivel, and the other end is slipped through an O–ring and attached to the dog's collar. The hardware is very important and specific so that the dog doesn’t get tangled. This circular area drawn by the chain is covered with rock dust, which helps with drainage, and punctuated with a wooden doghouse with an overhang for the rain, and a concrete water bowl. These light beige circles dot much of the yard, each a few feet apart, and gorgeous dogs wriggle, jump, and strain against their chains for attention.
Keeping dogs on chains is a hot-button for most animal welfare advocates, but I’ve learned that doggers insist that a well-maintained chain system is the healthiest and safest containment system available. The argument is that the dogs can exercise an area double the length of their chain, much larger than most kennels, and certainly larger than the crates that middle America has deemed suitable for dogs day and night while their owners keep up power jobs. I can’t argue with that. When I asked Larry about chaining, he gave me a surprisingly poetic answer:
I need to be keeping closer track of everything, but I’ve become totally immersed in the site. I chat with Jeff online almost every day. And get this, he lives about an hour away from here!!! I knew he was in the South, but WTF? The other night when I was stressing out about a film I have due for my visual anthropology class, he said why didn’t I come to the conformation show the next day!! It was just out not far from Stone Mountain! He said I could film it and maybe we’d put it on the site or something.
I was so excited to go to this thing I felt like I was going to pee myself. We went and I met his dad, Larry, and his dad’s girlfriend, Cindy, and some other people and dogs and kids. I took tons of pics. And OMG I met Irish Jerry, one of the legendary dogmen—he was the judge! And I asked him about my friend Otis (who now raises horses but used to be into the dogs) and got him talking a little because of that connection. Otis and Molly actually ended up coming by for a few minutes too because they had called and invited me to the horse park and I told them where I was, and they were close by so they said they’d come check it out.
And I got to show one of Jeff and Larry’s dogs! We didn’t win but walking out there all proud with him was so much fun! Gosh there is so much more to write but it’ll have to be later, I’m wiped.
I’ve been lurking on a number of pit bull websites for months and I’ve learned so much. It’s still hard for me to jump in and participate. Even though I thought I knew a lot about dogs, I am merely a low-ranking “petbuller” because I do not have or raise game-bred pit bulls. The vetting process for new members is intense! Common chat room questions are, "What do you feed?" and "What lines do you run?" And one’s answers quickly determine their status as a "dogger" or a "petbull" person. These folks are extremely opinionated! If you feed crap dog food like Purina, or God forbid, Ol’ Roy, you will get blasted.
So last night, I answered an ad on one gamedog site looking for a moderator. I’m supposed to be giving back to the community I’m studying, somehow, plus I thought it might get me more in the know. Then today, an instant message popped up on my screen with an icon of a pit bull superimposed onto a Confederate flag. This was the avatar for Jeff, the webmaster. We ended up having a long convo!
He started the site because he was interested in providing information to the public about the pit bull breed. When he found out I am a lawyer and now also a grad student, he asked me to help review the rules and guidelines for the site, and maybe write a mission statement. He made me a staff member, which I see now gives me access to private forums for moderators!
There was a long break between my first entry below and when I started writing fieldnotes in earnest. I think I was waiting on my IRB (Institutional Review Board approval for my research) and lurking on lots of message boards. It was around this time that I went to the Coon Dog Cemetary in Alabama.
As a newbie at fieldwork, I have no idea where to begin. I went to a continuing legal education seminar on animal cruelty cases where Sandy Christiansen, the head of the Dogfighting Task Force of the Humane Society of the United States, spoke about pursuing dogfighting investigations online. He said they are finding out a lot about dogfighting online. The presumption of anonymity encourages people to speak more freely about their involvement in illegal activities. So even though I’m not that sort of undercover investigator, I figured maybe it makes the most sense to start there.
I’ve done some surfing around, and my initial experience looking at pit bull websites is completely different from Sandy’s description. There seems to be a broad range of message boards devoted to pit bulls, some of which take an animal rights perspective, and at the other extreme, a handful of anti-"humaniac" or possibly pro-dogfighting boards. Although the history and illegality of dogfighting are being discussed in these forums, I haven’t seen anyone selling fighting equipment or setting up matches like he made it sound. There is one site that seems most promising to start with. It has sort of a pro-dogfighting or at least pro-gamedog (is it the same thing?) slant, and it has a more welcoming vibe than most other sites.
Now I'm jumping to 2003, before my ethnography begins but still in-between the entries in my book. Here is the extreme photo cuteness of Idgie during my first ill-fated wedding. She was trying to get me to run away with her - it's clear from the photos.
I miss her, and my father, so very much. These pics were taken ten years before those strange months when they both crossed over, one after the other, my atria. I'm a firm believer in Faulkner's famous quote... (He also knew and loved dogs):
It's wild and therapeutic, rummaging around in photos and materials that have survived from those days. There's a beautiful reading log of my book published by Gersande. I love this kind of feedback, and want to write a proper response to this response. One critique though was the need for context to fill in some of the ellipses between entries. I like the spaces-between, and some were necessary. But in this space I can continue this work-in-progress that is the past.
Back in my single days in that little condo. We went on long walks every day after work and that was my favorite part of the day. We must've walked all over Buckhead. Idgie was a remarkable pup - it took her literally one day to be house-trained! She just "got it" immediately. And she was so good with the kitties, although I'm sure they were less than keen on the bouncing baby girl.
Oh how I miss her!
From Idgie's baby book.