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Zynga pulls pit bulls from Mafia Wars after complaint

It's a victory for PETA, which took issue with the fact that Zynga supports animal rights efforts and yet was using virtual pit bulls as attack dogs in the Mafia Wars game.

This pit bull does not look like he wants to join the Mafia anytime soon. CC: Flickr user Scott Kinmartin

Virtual meat hooks, flame throwers, and propane bombs are OK, but attack dogs are not: social-gaming behemoth Zynga has removed pit bulls from its roster of virtual weaponry in the Mafia Wars game after a complaint last month on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA's reasoning is that promoting a domestic animal as a weapon will only encourage misunderstanding and abuse of pit bulls, which have been routinely used in illegal dog-fighting activities and are often subject to horrific conditions as their owners attempt to toughen them up. The breed of dog has gotten bad press from a number of human fatalities, which animal rights advocates counter with the argument that the offending canines were mistreated in the first place.

A release Friday from PETA says that it's "sending vegan chocolates to Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus to thank him for his compassionate decision."

"Depicting 'man's best friend' as a fighting machine can encourage the wrong type of people--those with no heart and no understanding of a dog's needs--to treat these wonderful animals as inanimate objects," PETA executive Tracy Reiman said in a release from the company last month when the organization originally complained. "If Mark Pincus--who named his company after his own beloved dog, Zinga--can't portray dogs as loyal and loving members of the family, we'd rather he left them out of the game altogether." A blog post from PETA noted that in another one of Zynga's games, YoVille, proceeds from purchasing a virtual bulldog are donated to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The complaint was likely more of a PR move than an attempt to change the world--and an easy argument for PETA to make considering Pincus' openness about being a dog lover. But the organization's beef with Mafia Wars may not yet be over: The inclusion of additional animals like lions and tigers was a big Mafia Wars announcement (they come in "Vicious Crates" and are "dropping from jobs, fighting and robbing"--yep, sounds like my cat!) and there's an additional virtual item in the form of a "bloody horse head" as made famous by an iconic scene in "The Godfather."