Episode 83 – Dalia Salah

Dalia Salah with the Fredericksburg SPCA shares with us that survivors of animal fighting face three fates – staying with abusers, placement or death. Due to the lack of funding, support, and placement most survivors remain with their abusers or are euthanized. Animal fighting is a violent blood sport in which two animals are placed beak to beak in a small ring and encouraged to fight to the death. Although animal fighting is a felony in all 50 states, this bloodsport still persists across the nation and in all sorts of communities and among all sorts of people. Learn to support animal services and empower your community to end animal fighting.

Dalia Salah - Professionals in Animal Rescue

Welcome to the professionals in animal rescue podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue.  This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport.  Now, on with our show! Dalia Saleh is the director of community advancement and communications at the Fredericksburg S. P. C. A. And overseas that people empowered through support program and Social Media Team. The Pets program aims to address the challenges that many families in our community face when it comes to pet ownership. Dahlia is an active volunteer and partner of the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force. The Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force is a nonprofit made up of animal control officers, prosecutors and attorney’s license veterinarians and animal welfare workers to take action against animal abuse and fighting. Prior to joining the Fredericksburg S. P. C. A. Dahlia worked as an outreach specialist, foster coordinator, that canary technician and shelter manager at animal welfare agencies. Hey, Dalia. Thanks for coming on today. Thank you. for having me, Chris. So tell us about you and give us a little bit about your path into animal rescue. So I am currently the director of Community Advancement in communication with a small nonprofit organization, and my journey began a za child. I was the privilege of traveling to different countries, a Z young child as a result of my father’s background. Ah, culture. And one thing that stood out in our experience in traveling to parts of the world that weren’t like being in America. They were communities where war ravished their towns, their families, their their cultures, their joy. And I was a small child, quickly saw how that affected the most vulnerable beings in those societies, which was children and animals. And, um, that stood out to me and I saw the value in what people and animals were able to provide each other with. And so that’s that was the first of my foot with animals. You know, I didn’t have pets growing up. I didn’t have animals. I had family members that have worms that, you know, cattle that had cats that had dogs that had working farms. And I didn’t have my first pet until I was 16 and it was a cat. But I brought home getting permission then, and I still have her. She’s she’s she’s my partner in crime, but that that was the start of my journey. It was It was that human animal bond on DH. Seeing how that influenced our community or the communities that I was a part of before, you know, weeks, months, days on DH. Ah, then years here in the States. My first job was working in a kennel with a GN animal hospital when I remember going to my school because I was too young to work. So I had to get a learner’s permit. I think we’re working for much er and so that’s how I got got into the few. I got a worker’s permit that the tender age of 15 and decided that you know what? I want to pursue this. This is where I want to be. This is where I need to be. And that’s how I got my foot in the door, was working in a kennel at an animal hospital and working my way up within the private medicine and yeah, so that was that was the star. I couldn’t work at a shelter or rescue because I was too young. So I found a loophole, and it was to get a work permit and started to start working in a kennel. And, um, you know, that was my creativity going into play. And I’m I realized, after a few years of working in private medicine that I was a social butterfly in a field that was very but I focused solely on animals, which I loved, but I also loved working with people. And so I made the leap from private medicine who, volunteering with rescues and then applying for a job at my local animal shelter and working is not reached Specialist. So I was at the front desk. I’m handling a lost and found calls handling owner, surrender information, handling adoptions, and I cried on the first day of the job, and it wasn’t because of the animals is because of seeing and question animals and seeing how difficult that was for that and how difficult it was for the animals to be separated from them. And that’s stuck with me, and I ended up just working my way within that organization from outreach specialist foster, coordinator to veterinary technician, teacher manager at different agencies. And one thing that stood out in all of those present tense wass connection with the people that found their way. Tio my organ in our organization are programs whether it was to adopt or to foster or toe acquire and low cost veterinary care, or to simply just visit and be a part of those animals journeys, whether it was to give him a cookie one time or develop. And, um, I wanted to find a way to support those partnerships. And one of my biggest, best and favorite accomplishment was being on the forefront of founding a program called People Empowered Through Support and the Economist Pets through the organization I’m with now. Essentially, what we do is we aim Teo address. The challenge is that families face when to pet partnerships, and I was able to utilize utilize all of the things that I learned and the different programs positions organizations that I worked with. Tio figure out a way tio understand the complexity that is pet partnerships and parts of her community that we didn’t have access to with. I started working with our local animal control agency and just threw connecting with them as individuals because I was inspired by the work they were doing obvious that was there because they needed my help with animals. But they just questioned them like you know what your day to day look like? How can I support you? Because I can’t do what you do. It’s this. You are just a professional and a different sense than I am. And I support and respect that. But what can I do to help you? And through that dialogue, I was exposed to things that I had no idea where relevant Teo the industry into my community. And that was through animal task force was the no. Hey, what we need help with is, you know, providing a platform for survivors of animal fighting and cruelty and neglect. And, you know, coming from a shelter or rescue background, I was seeing the animals that were coming to us. I was working with adopters and owners and fosters and I wasn’t working with, um, you know, abuse case. I was working with the abusers directly. Or remember the community that, you know, ended up going on a different path, and I did. And so that was really eye opening. And that pushed me Teo a field that I wasn’t well versed in. And so the last two years of my career have been taking the learner seat and taking a step back, saying, There’s a lot that I don’t know. There’s a lot that I don’t know But there’s a lot that I can also bring to the table. Yeah, that’s a really interesting perspective. You’ve had such a such a journey and you found your passion for animals. And now, as you said, you’ve kind of learned about an area of rescue that’s really not talked a lot about I mean, we hear about, you know, sometimes big cases, but, you know, animal fighting is is just something that’s not really talked about. So now what have you learned? I mean, you you’ve kind of now steered your passion in this direction, and this seems to be something that you’re really inspired to make a difference in. Absolutely. So I began my partnership with our local animal control agency about three years ago, and I began working closely with the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force about two years ago and the initial connection with them was to just be their eyes and ears kind of here and see what they were seeing, things that they could share because a lot of it was under, You know, were things that we couldn’t talk about, and that was something I have to really learn. I had to learn Tio, be mindful and sensitive to the law and what they could share and could not share. So there’s a little bit of frustration on my and being like, I want to know everything. Tell me everything. It was only so much that I could be exposed to and be aware of sake of the law and three cases and the potential outcome of the case is, and so the first year was really just observing and going on right along tze and going on scene and being a part of what the challenges were that they faced. They were experts in enforcement and engagement. They were they are experts in enforcing the law. They’re experts in animal law, which is completely different than regular law. So there was a side of criminal justice that I had no knowledge and, um so I learned really quickly that survivors of animal fighting cases have three fates. They stay with abusers, they find placement or they are euthanized or die. And that was really difficult for me. It was really difficult for me because I saw how hard our law enforcement officers worked. Teo answer calls of cruelty and neglect. I mean, they were there answering hundreds of calls a year. I mean, hundreds, hundreds on. And during some ride alongs, they were actively engaging in dozens of cases at any given time. And to hear the complexities of what it takes to end animal fighting or Teo provide a positive outcome in all of the cases was difficult because I had this understanding that, hey, it’s illegal. So why’s prosecuted every single time and why? You know, why is it still happening if it’s illegal? Yeah, give us. Give us some perspective on that. Because I think as you mentioned, I mean, animal fighting is illegal. I believe in all 50 states, isn’t it? Yes. And so I started to really delve into who started to do research. I started Teo ask really difficult questions. I started Teo, do my own research. So animal fighting is illegal in all 50 states. That didn’t happen until about two thousand seven, so that’s less than you know. And that’s about 10 years ago. So that’s fairly new. And what I’ve learned through working way that our law enforcement and our attorney’s office is that animal fighting is part of our culture and society. It’s a centuries old sport, So believe it or not, there was a time cock fighting fighting with the second most popular sport following horse racing in the United States. And so when I realized that and when I started reading up on it, I will you know, Google pictures of cockfighting rings and would see pictures of times Where are, you know, founding fathers and our culture had pictures of children and people engaging, fighting on public roads downtown and in regular communities. And so when we approach animal fighting intense that we didn’t we didn’t legalize it until about 10 or so years ago. So we’re working with centuries of ingrained culture where it was accepted and it was actually surprised, and it was a source of pride for families and doing the right along. I saw that I saw families who knew nothing but cockfighting or animal fighting you. That was all they knew. They grew up being exposed to it. And up until 10 years ago, it was OK, Write it with me. I mean, it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t favourable. It wasn’t. You know something that, hey, I you know, my neighbor, you know, has an animal fighting ring in their backyard, and that’s great. It was more that nobody said anything against it. It wasn’t illegal. Therefore there was no action to be taken interesting. And that’s a really interesting perspective, because now it’s like we’re fighting tradition. As you said, that’s been centuries old and passed down over the generations. And it goes to how people approach and how they feel about animals. Absolutely. And what interesting Chris is these I’m going to use cockfighting is an example because it was so different to me. I’m I’m I’m a dog cat. Small animal girl, right? That’s well, that’s what I, you know, began working with worse. There’s an end, not my expertise. S o. You know, I know about chickens and roosters from going on farms and trying to chase and pick him up because they’re cute and they’re difficult to catch. But during, you know, working with animal in for law enforcement and hearing their perspective on cockfighting in case isn’t in some of the case, and you’re able to just pick up the roosters because owners handled them right because they were prized members of their family there, they were received in there ized fast care, and you could see it in the sense. But these are animals that enjoyed being held. And if you know, what about roosters and hands common right now, if you go on farms, good luck trying to pick one up. Interesting. Yeah. So they valued. They still valued these animals. They still care for these animals just on a different, different guy. So for me, it was like, no way, You know, how could you fight roosters that so violent right violence? And from their perspective, these are animals that haven’t innate tendency to want to peck each other. Not necessarily Teo to the death, but fine tuned the bloodline. And, you know, they bred specifically, and that takes a level of commitment and connection to the animal. In order to do that You have to really know what you’re working with. And they spent a lot of time with these beings. These animals, they’ve and as a result developed bonds with them, funds that we may not think of as being involved. But they bonded with these animals. They handle these animals, they in their eyes, treasure of these animals, part of their their family line in our lineage. And it was a sense of pride. Um and so we still see that to the stay and in Kong fighting. And it’s not always like that. We’ve seen that it’s actually manifested and adapted. Teo. There are people that got the sport for different reasons for money, whereas back in the day it was pried, it was Look what I did, you know, Look at our family, our family animal, right? Look at her family rooster that we’ve bred. We’ve trained, we’ve cared for. It’s a very interesting perspective. I mean, it’s something I’m not really all that familiar with. And, you know, you kind of get my brain going. So was really different. It’s it’s a very different and I it was complete. I was. I was right there where you are. I was like, That’s just fascinating. I did not think that. Max. Yeah, so how do you how do you go about affecting them generations? And as you said, it’s It’s just a different perspective, right? I mean, there’s still pride. There’s still care, but in a different way than you or I think about caring for animals, right? And so here’s this here. I mean, here’s the fact it’s now illegal. We’ve identified that the practice of cockfighting is violent, it’s inhumane, and it’s not something that we accept as a society anymore. And so we’re using that with sensitivity to make lasting change. And so when I got into this, I started to really then delve into other van fighting. One thing that I was pointed back to was the Michael Vick case. And, you know, we have the laws in place. Now we have the training’s available to our law enforcement. The Michael Vick case came out of Virginia, and it really light onto animal fighting in Virginia, but in the nation, because it’s sparked conversation about it. And I’ve referenced a really good article over people to read because it was just really eye opening but something that spoke out to me in that article. What when that case came about It was a heinous case. Mean dogs were in cruel, cruel conditions, and that was seen that was identified. That was noted and that was used in the conviction of Michael Vick. But people still, when it came out, defended him and that everyone dogfight. It’s in our community, or there are people that not everyone but there are. It happens everywhere. Why is Michael Vick getting charged when it happens? Everyone you know and those were sighted. There were people within his sport and within politics and influential figures who came to his defense. And it got me thinking, you know, we work and work with that. And Michael Vick was on Ly charged with 18 months of imprisonment. So she had. This was a big, high profile case with significant animal cruelty, and we followed what’s in place with law, and he was convicted and was when it was imprisoned for 18 months, which was a huge win for animal welfare. But think about that. That’s 18 months, and so when I look at animals at a zoo, whole prosecution is a huge part of it. Enforcement is a huge part of it, but engagement is one of the most critical parts of it because we know that these people are still going to be for our community and we need to get across that this is just a part of our site and we no longer one engage your support. We’re not going, Theo, but we have to use a level of sensitivity and social change in order to do that. And one thing that we are trying to dio is give these survivors of animal fighting a face and give them a platform. And in order to do that, we have to strengthen our basement Paula procedures and partners. There are not a lot of people that are equipped to handle animal fighting survivors. These are animals that have endured the worst treatment by people that they were raised by mean these air, the closest people to them cause and inflicted the worst harm to them. And so that’s a specialized type of rescue that is expensive. It is emotionally difficult and it’s not. There aren’t enough of them. And so what happens when animal control officers and law enforcement you know, go properties. If they seize the end, Marples, who’s going to take them, who’s going to come out for them? And we’re talking about sometimes hundreds of animals on one scene. Yeah, And as you said, I mean, there’s very few choices of of outcomes right there, the return to the owner or if they’re lucky enough to find placement or they’re sadly killed. Great, because in the eyes of the law, death fatter than keeping them where they are or returning them to the owner without placement. And in most cases, these animals air really sick, treatable in most times. Yes, not always. So there’s always going to be a need to potentially use in. Eyes of the animals. Truly, medically are behaviorally unable to be treated. But in most cases that I’ve worked with, the animals can be rehabilitated and they can be medically treated, and we need thio build that platforms that we can better support our law enforcement because it’s not their expertise is not in play. Their expertise is an enforcement engagement. You never know. Go ahead. Oh, yeah. No, I was just going to say I mean, if somebody is listening to this and they’re thinking, Yeah, I want to get involved. I mean, where do they start? Absolutely. So the need is greater than ever. For first responders, eso most can have what’s called a car team. So these are a murder, the response teams for animals and you can actually be trained through your local eight. You know your local community to do that. So basically, you’re trained on what’s expected from a law perspective, what’s expected from the animal perspective and what’s expected when you get a call stating you need, we need help. And so that is the first need that vehicle is. People are willing to come on scene to help with collecting evidence collecting the animals. You know, placing the animal’s getting the transport, transporting the animals and housing the animals. And so the first way to be involved is to connect with your local animal agencies, whether it’s animal control, whether it’s a nonprofit that has a contract with animal control or an animal shelter or an animal resource center on and looking up to see if you have established emergency response teams within your organization s o, these response teams are the one of the first people that are notified when there are search warrants that need to be executed, because in order to remove animals, usually a large number of animals, law enforcement need help. And so we need help in the form of animal lovers. And it’s all animals, not just dogs and cat gestures. It’s dogs, cats, roosters, livestock. We found that these air, not just animal fighting situations. We found that these air gateway activities toe other illegal activities. They’re types of animals, you know. Pigs, cows, horses, dogs, kittens, puppies on DSO having volunteers that have different skill set. We’ve been able to find all of you to have a specialty, working with horses. Coats are really shy. It full dogs or roosters and hens, like I said on expert and hens and oysters. But I was able to find 20 to 30 volunteers who loved chickens and roosters, and they were able help. May I couldn’t do it, and I was not. I was not able to learn all of that on site to do it all, So we need volunteers that are well versed in different species and different, you know, in different forms of rescue and different skill sets. We need volunteers that are Pete that have really good people, skills that are able to navigate working on crime scenes where the owner of Slash abuser is on scene. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to go on scene and face. Face the atrocities hand. You’re seeing the animal’s suffering right before your eyes and then you’re seeing potentially the person responsible for this. So being able to remain professional under that level of stress, you know, I we’ll recruit people, their social workers that you know, have different skills that we didn’t think we’d recruit, you know, so that definitely, definitely a really good avenues. The folks that want to volunteer that want to be a part of a part of it directly on and the need is great. No, it’s it’s really interesting, Teo. I mean, I could hear your passion and it’s something, as I said and rescue, I’m not as familiar with, so to hear that it’s still something so prevalent is really eye opening, and that that it’s still happening in the U. S. Even though it’s illegal. But you’ve really done a great job to share perspective on why that is and the approach needs to be community based, and it needs to be done in a CZ you said a professional and non emotional way to try and educate and enforce at the same time. So that’s really interesting. The perspective that you’re bringing. Daly This has been great to talk to you and to learn more about this subject. Is there anything else you want to share before we wrap things up? I think that the only other thing I want to share is you know, we talked about ways for folks to get involved to be a volunteer control animal law. The one thing that folks who be able to directly volunteer is community advocacy and empowerment is, you know, if you’re a member of the public that sees animals tethered to blue barrels or, you know people type dogs or large breed dogs tethered to blue barrels or roosters tethered to blue barrels, call your local law enforcement. Call your animal control agency. That is usually the first and easiest way to get animals the help that they need. And if that situation isn’t truly an animal fighting situation now we have folks on scene that can educate and a best practice for animals. In worst case scenario, it’s truly a gateway to animal fighting. And so that’s a way that the public can be empowered, really, truly be a part of shedding light to animal fighting is if you see something, say something and, you know, say something to the professionals that can come out and handle and get the health and best practice Teo people that that have the blue barrels and animals tied out to them. That’s a really important piece in enforcing and engaging with parts. Wendy Air Animal fighting might be going on Well, Dahlia, thank you so much for coming on and sharing this with us today was great to talk to you. Thank you so much for having me. 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