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Saving the bullies in Baltimore

Travel: A meaningful visit with the Baltimore Bully Crew

Posted: June 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Eric Vocke of Baltimore Bully Crew is a chef by night and crusader by day to save abused pit bulls in Baltimore. Peyton, a former bait dog, was adopted and rehabilitated by Vocke.

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Editor’s note: Assistant features editor Michelle Sathe is on a book tour of the United States with her recently published book “Pit Stops.”  Her canine companion, a rescued pit bull mix, will be available for adoption June 26 when Sathe returns to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Next on the agenda was a lunch meeting with Eric Vocke of the Baltimore Bully Crew. A chef by night at the Pierpoint Inn, a charming, intimate bistro in the heart of the city, Vocke was a crusader by day for the pit bulls in his hometown.

Vocke began cooking a delectable smoked crab cake for me and a spicy noodle curry dish for my friend Christelle Del Prete in the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Del Prete is a Massachusetts rescuer/writer who met up with Kara and I for this leg of the trip. She was accompanied by her dog Rusty.

A delivery man came in and struck up a conversation with Vocke, who was wearing a distinctive black Baltimore Bully Crew T-shirt.

The shirt was emblazoned with “Fight Abuse Not Dogs” on the back. The $20 shirts are Baltimore Bullys’ primary fundraising tool.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of some guys who file their dog’s teeth into points before a fight,” the dreadlocked delivery man told Vocke.

These types of anecdotes don’t shock Vocke anymore. He’s spent years studying and researching dog fighting, soaking up the lingo and absorbing the culture to make inroads into the ghettos surrounding Baltimore.

“Money is the No. 1 drive, but fighters also live vicariously through these dogs,” said Vocke. “There’s a sense of strength they get about possessing an animal and being able to make it violent on command. They manipulate everything that’s good about pit bulls.”

Vocke and his wife, Kate, plus 10 or so friends who make up the Baltimore Bully Crew, will often go to the alleys, the abandoned buildings and other sad places where bait dogs and losing fight dogs will often be dumped or chained.

The first dog the Crew rescued just over a year ago was chained to an abandoned building. The dog came to be known as Mozzarella.

“I like to give pit bulls silly food names. It makes them less intimidating,” Vocke said.

Other crew alumni include Pork Chop and Sugar Snap.

Mozzarella came to live with the Vockes, and Eric Vocke slept with her for 72 consecutive nights.

The BBC rehabilitates dogs like Mozzarella, restoring not only their health, but their confidence, too, before finding the proper pit-savvy home.

“It’s a one-dog-at-a-time approach,” Eric Vocke said. “We’ve had up to 15, but we prefer having three or four at a time.”

In addition to rescue, Eric also gives talks to the residents of local juvenile detention centers about dog fighting, often showing gruesome videos to illustrate his point.

“We need to get these kids when they’re 6 or 7 years old, before they start looking up to their older brothers who dog fight,” Eric Vocke said.

He then drove us through a tough neighborhood in Baltimore, just a few blocks from the restaurant, to illustrate his point.
He would honk and stick his head outside the window of his ancient red Honda Civic, adorned with anti-dog fighting stickers, pointing and saying things like, “People fight dogs in this park all the time.”

He led us back to his neighborhood, where Kate Vocke and their dog Peyton waited in a greenbelt. Peyton, a strong, striking brown and white pit with big ears like Kara’s, was instantly thrilled to see his daddy.

When I asked why Peyton got this honor over the many dogs Crew rescues, Eric Vocke got a bit teary-eyed, which he tended to do when discussing the dogs he’s rehabilitated.

“He was only 29 pounds when we found him,” Eric Vocke said. “He needed us the most.”

A bit stunned from our meeting, Del Prete and I bid farewell to Eric and Kate. We made our way back to Jen Carle’s house to pick up Kara and Rusty.

Carle, an author and rescuer in Baltimore, had boarded her own dogs to offer ours a day full of playing ball, belly rubs and tasty snacks.

She rolled around on her front lawn with Kara, bestowing kiss after kiss on her big head and silly mouth, saying goodbye as only pit lovers do. Kara was enthralled. Carle was now officially Aunt Jen.

I thought to myself, at this moment, while Kara was being loved and adored, there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of pit bulls in dark basements, chained in a yard or worse, getting prepared to fight within just a few square miles of this idyllic scene.

I was happy for Kara, but sad, too, saying a silent prayer for the dogs who aren’t so lucky.

To order a signed copy of “Pit Stops,” visit Kara will be available for adoption when she returns to the Santa Clarita Valley on June 26. To follow Michelle and Kara on the road, visit and click on Pit Stops Blog.


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