Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Pit bulls, dog fights, and real estate

As Cassie and I were walking home from an early evening stroll last night, a neighbor stopped me to report that a stray pit bull has been running loose in the neighborhood for the past week or so, and that he had just seen it go into my yard. The animal was gone by the time he and I talked, but it was a mildly disturbing exchange.

Dog fighting—which mostly involves “pit bull” type animals of indeterminate breed related to the Staffordshire terrier—has become a serious problem in Arizona. A common entertainment of toughs and hardened criminals, this lucrative gambling racket thrives on breeding aggressive dogs and abusing them to the point where they are truly dangerous. The problem is not so much in the dogs as in their sociopathic owners. Pit bulls have found favor among street gangs, who use them to protect their drug operations and intimidate citizens as well as in organized dog fighting. In fact, the pit bull has become emblematic of the Bloods, a widespread violent street gang. The interest in pit bulls among celebrity thugs like football star Michael Vick and rapper DMX does not help matters.

The dog shelter where I rescued Cassie was, like most shelters in Arizona, overrun with pit bull-type dogs. It is located in an area infested by gangs, and so the predominance of pit bulls there is not surprising. What is surprising is that I managed to retrieve her before she was “adopted” to be used as bait in training vicious fighting animals, a common practice among dog-fighting breeders and trainers.

The Centers for Disease Control caused quite a flap a few years ago when it released a report saying pit bulls are responsible for about a third of U.S. dog-bite deaths. Groups advocating bans on specific breeds succeeded in getting legislation passed in several states and cities. In fact, though, the CDC did not say the problem lies solely with pit-bull type dogs but that—given enough provocation—any breed will bite, and the study explicitly said the group does not support breed-specific controls. During the study’s period, Rottweilers were the most commonly reported breed in fatal dog attacks. Together, pit bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for more than half the fatalities from dog bites in the U.S.

The sociopaths who breed pit bulls for dog fights use savagely brutal “training” techniques, and they will shoot dogs that lose or back down during a fight. The result, of course, is a dangerously mean-tempered animal, and over time, a breed that has been selected for aggression and viciousness. Anyone who thinks such an animal is not potentially dangerous is fooling himself. Fighting dogs that are not killed are often simply abandoned after a lifetime of horrendous abuse that inclines them to attack anything that comes their way—there’s a chance that’s how our visitor got here.

So, I wasn’t pleased. A street pit bull, which will not back down when confronted by a human and is usually impervious to pepper spray and blows from a well-aimed kick or stick, poses far more risk to Cassie than do our urban coyotes, which are fairly easy for an adult human to scare off.

And more to the personal finance point: I wasn’t pleased because this is yet another indicator of the encroaching slums.

Though my immediate neighborhood and the district just to the south and east are nice enough, these centrally located enclaves are surrounded by blight. One of the reasons that for years I felt a nagging sense that I should move someplace else is that when I worked on the West campus, I had to drive home and into the neighborhood from the north. Coming in from the north and the west takes you through miles of working-class neighborhoods and downright slums, which get crummier and more menacing as you approach our neighborhood. The northern fringe of our neighborhood has been dragged down by the noise and crime from a seedy shopping center, now mostly vacant after its anchor, a Fry’s grocery store, finally closed. The departure of the Fry’s, however, did nothing to help improve that area, mostly because as the real estate market deflated there was no way for the home values to go up. Values in that section of the neighborhood were already depressed, and as they have fallen further, a worse element has moved in and the properties’ deterioration has accelerated.

Driving in from the south and the east, as I’ve been doing since I started working on the Tempe campus, carries me through the middle-class and high-income neighborhoods that line north Central Avenue. These are pleasant areas, and so one tends to forget that everything to the west and the north is a dangerous slum. Out of sight, out of mind.

You can’t keep it out of mind forever, though, when the denizens’ rejected pit bulls are wandering through your front yard and when your neighborhood is under siege from burglars and home invaders.

My problem with moving, besides the fact that my property values are as depressed as anyone else’s, is that I happen to like living in the city’s central core. I don’t want to move out to the suburbs. I dislike Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler and don’t want to live there, and I have exactly zero desire to move to the only affordable middle-class venue I can find, which is Sun City. Except for my specific six-square-block neighborhood, which because of its status as a buffer zone between the rich folks and the gang-ridden slums to the west has always been underpriced relative to similar houses a block or two to the east or south, there is no other desirable part of the central city where I can afford to live. A one-bedroom apartment closer to the center of the city costs more than my four-bedroom house on a quarter of an acre with a pool.

Last night I crawled the online real estate listings and found three short sales or foreclosures over in the “good” part of my area. One potentially attractive house that was completely gutted many months ago is still on the market—the bank is asking $175,000 and entertaining any offer. My guess is the fix-up job will require about $100,000. You’d still end up with a nice house for about $100,000 less than the (former) value of surrounding properties. But it’s not livable—no kitchen, no bathrooms, no flooring, no nothin’—and so you’d have to live somewhere else for the several months required to rebuild the place.

Another house, about as far north as mine but only a block from swanky Central Avenue, is on the market for $230,000. It’s a short sale. This, too, is priced well below the value of neighboring homes, but it’s on the upper end of my price range.

The backyard is nowhere near as nice as mine, and heaven only knows what’s inside.

Deep in the heart of North Central—must be just one or two houses in from the coveted tree-lined boulevard—is this little gem:

It appears to have a nice kitchen. Two fireplaces, one of them in the master bedroom. What look like real wood beams in the family room. They want $289,900 for this, as is. In that part of town, they’re practically giving it away.

But that’s still way more than I can afford. I’d be surprised if I could get $230,000 for my house today, and that’s before I fork over Realtor’s fees and closing costs. The truth is, I can’t sell my house for enough to get into any better area that is not on the far-flung fringes of the Valley or in Sun City.

“Garden Spot” image: Steve Garufi
Dante Alighieri Images
Others: Multiple Listing Service

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. I know it’s not likely, but I hope that the stray isn’t one of those bred and tortured by the dog fighters. When not goaded, starved, beaten and otherwise incentivized to become vicious, defensive or aggressive, they really are the sweetest dogs. Again, I know it’s not likely you’ve got a nice one stray, but one can hope.

  2. I sincerely hope you’re right.

    It’s infuriating even to think about the brutes out there who torment animals for the fun of making them vicious. And the business of killing dogs that lose a fight or back down — as it develops, more because of the owner’s ego bruising than out of any understanding of natural selection — means that the pit bulls you’re likely to find at the pound have a larger chance of being bred for aggression.

    Having owned and trained many German shepherds, I can attest that stupid breeding practices intended to produce “guard dogs” have pretty much wrecked the breed in the United States. Despite higher breed standards in Germany, the truth is that German-bred animals aren’t a lot better. At least Anna, who was German, did not have her hips fall apart at the age of one or go berserk at the age of three, pretty typical experiences for US-bred dogs.

    Too bad you can’t persuade a coyote to take up residence around the house. O’course, if you could, in a few generations humans would do the job on that breed, too.

  3. I’ll try to refrain from gushing or ranting, but honestly, the non-abused pits are … adorable. Adorable and so smart. We’ve had any number of rescue pits (rescued relatively young) and, well:

    1. Rescue 1 was abandoned by owners when she chewed on an electrical cord as a puppy and was mostly dead when brought in for treatment. They didn’t even want to try to treat her, but as you know, mostly dead is not all the way dead. She was treated and survived to become the lovingest dog of a 5 dog pack. Loves to snuggle, to go on car rides, is a very quiet and charming girl who best loves getting romped on in the snow by other dogs. She even learned to lay quietly underneath a blanket while being driven through states where pits are banned. No peeking!

    2. Rescue 2 was an abandoned parvo case. Again, once revived, she lived happily in a home with house-roaming ferrets, cats and other dogs. She even perfected a mid-leap body twist so as to avoid jumping into the prize garden when scolded during her nightly yard runs. Helps the ferret roll potatos around the room. For fun.

    3. At ten months old, Rescue 3 learned that he has to wait until his paws are wiped clean on muddy days before he’s allowed inside. He figured out that the older dog was boss, sans fighting, and concedes food bowl, bed and blanket as “requested.” (really, just a nudging is all that’s necessary). He likes to army crawl down the hallway to greet you, plays dead when caught sneaking into the house without permission and actually falls asleep (complete with snoring) while playing dead. Comes to work sometimes, and hangs out during staff meetings. Occasionally gets needy and crawls (90+ lbs, btw) into a staffer’s lap. To snuggle.

    My fingers and toes are crossed that your stray is a regular kid because chances are likely that he or she would then be one of the above personalities.

    It drove me beyond mad to deal with anybody trying to breed their dogs for fighting and thought we were too stupid to know better, but we couldn’t turn away injured or ill animals.

    Even worse, I hate that any such potentially loving animals are tortured into such dangerous, ravening creatures, and that *all* of them suffer from the reputation.

  4. I have reciently bought what i assumed was a standard staff, however it looks identical to the dog on this page, is this a pitbull staff?

  5. The market is in really terrible shape in Arizona, Nevada, California and Florida. One has to assume though that prices have bottomed out. Short sale and Bank owned listings dominate the market place and have brought the overall values down significantly.

    • @ joncchristopher: I sure do hope you’re right, although we’ve learned not to assume anything about the bottoming-out possibilities. Although a Realtor friend says the inventory is now back to about normal thanks to speculative buying of short sales and foreclosures, there doesn’t seem to be any sign that prices are stabilizing or starting to rise. Yesterday I saw a cherried-out little gem of a house in a hotly desired neighborhood: bank was offering it for $300,000. But even though the value of my house hasn’t fallen, because I also live in a desirable central neighborhood, that still was more than I could pay and not end up with a mortgage. Too bad: it was to die for!

  6. There are two types of Staffy, the english staffy, which looks nothing like that, being shorter, broader and having a bigger head, and the American Staffy.
    There is debate over whether or not it is different to the American Pitbull. I think of them as a subtype of American Pitbull. If your dog has a pink or red nose, it is definately not an American Staffy, it’s nose should be black. The pittbull in that photo is a rednose pitty.