My Pet World: Dogfighting 'game' raises serious ethical questions

I'm a journalist and, of course, I believe in free speech. However, certain lines are drawn all the time. For example, I don't know of a video game or telephone app that teaches players how to abuse children.

However, there's now what I believe to be a comparable app through which participants can learn to "train" dogs to fight one another. The goal is for the winner to rip the other dog to shreds. The tagline on the "game," called "KG Dogfighting," is "Raise your dog to be the best."

Kage Games first released a similar dogfighting app in April. I was among the first who blogged about it and word spread quickly through social media. Soon, national animal welfare organizations spoke out and local police superintendents and public officials expressed their horror.

Radio talk show hosts discussed the topic, asking experts, such as child psychiatrists, to comment. Even NFL star Michael Vick — the most celebrated convicted dogfighter — weighed in.

Under pressure, the Android market (operated by Google) removed the app.

Now Kage Games is back with a version of its dogfighting app, which they say is "new and improved." It's true. This time around, that it's labeled as a "high maturity" app only for players over 13. Still, there's nothing stopping anyone under 13 from downloading the app.

And "high maturity"? Well, that's a joke. I'm not sure anyone playing this game is mature.

I'm most concerned about children, or young adults, who download this app. I happen to be on the board of directors and also serve as a national ambassador for the American Humane Assn., the very organization that helped discover the well-accepted link between violence toward animals and subsequent acts of violence toward people. Those who are desensitized (particularly at a young age) to harming animals are more likely to commit violent crimes as adults.

Defending its position, the webpage for the new app states: "Perhaps one day we will make gerbil wars or betta fish wars for people who can't understand fantasy role play games." But can people (children, in particular) understand that this game is fantasy?

Also, how close is a phone app linked to the real thing? No one knows, but it's sure a heck of a lot easier to play "a game" that describes how to hurt a dog, and then to try it for real, compared to attempting violence toward people. Helpless animals can't fight back as easily as people, and there's less hesitation to attempt such "practice" violence, according to research.

Also, although dogfighting is a felony in 50 states, in some places it remains acceptable.

The app's webpage says: "What makes the Google Android platform special is it gives the freedom and responsibility to the individual users to decide what to put on their phones, as opposed to the phone carriers and app stores making value judgments on our behalf." Kage Games goes on to admonish critics: "Please remember that censorship is a very slippery slope."

That's true. However, the Android market does have usage guidelines. In fact, Android phone users can flag an app as inappropriate (by scrolling to the bottom of the page) for content that's hateful, abusive, or depicts graphic violence. Under Android's own guidelines, they may remove the app.

Learning from their first go-around, Kage Games is prepared with instant damage control, pointing out that a portion of the proceeds from the app (taken from the $4.99 fee to install it) will benefit animal rescue organizations, as well as victims of the Japanese tsunami.

I made a few calls to random animal organizations, and staff laughed when I asked if they'd take money from this group. I would question any organization that does.

Finally, Kage Games notes, "We're dogs lovers ourselves." Then, why is the company so intent on selling a dogfighting "game?" I can't answer.

Aside from offering your views about the app on an Android phone, even non-Android users can visit the Android site to report inappropriate apps.

Twitter now has a NO KG DogFighting page.

Dogfighting is more than horrific violence we force dogs to inflict upon themselves, sometimes to the death. Police say where there are dogfights, other crimes are always being committed.

At dogfights, children are exposed to the worst of what people can do, and are taught to do it themselves. Often entire neighborhoods are held hostage by those who fight the dogs. Celebrating this in a game simply is not right.

Dogfighting is no game.

STEVE DALE hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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