09 November 2010

The illicit world of dog fighting

The popularity of dog fighting is reportedly growing, driven by dog owners who are getting younger and younger.


The popularity of dog fighting is reportedly growing, driven by dog owners who are getting younger and younger.

It is hard for pet-lovers to understand that people could rear dogs solely to kill and be killed. But that is what happens with dogfights: owners raise dogs specifically to watch them fight each other to the death. The winning dog is praised and lives to fight another day; the underdog dies; and the audience walks away to tally their wins or losses.

Regular arranged dog fights are rife in the Athlone district, along with West-End Park and Vygieskraal, says Warrant Officer Ian Bennett of the Athlone police station.

That is distressing enough, but what is perhaps most shocking is that some of the dog-owners are children. In impoverished communities, says Bennett, the violence children witness in and around their homes is often played out at school. “The police are then called out to schools to deal with children’s violent outbursts,” he says. They find that the most troubled children are often the same children have been linked to dog fighting.

Fights linked to gangsterism

The most popular fighting breed is the cross-bred pit bull terriers, though Rottweilers, bloodhounds and boerboels also make an appearance. None of these breeds is particularly common in the Athlone area as pets, says Bennett. The incidence of pit-bulls is due to their association with aggression, and their readiness to fight. Their extremely powerful jaws inflict deep wounds and can easily break bones.

A fight can take more than an hour, ending only when the losing dog cannot or will not fight any longer. Both dogs suffer brutally severe injuries. Death could come from shock, dehydration, exhaustion, blood-loss or untreated infections after a fight.

In a statement, Cape of Good Hope SPCA CEO Allan Perrins said that once a pit bull has tasted blood, it potentially becomes more dangerous. It says that the SPCA is against “blaming” the dogs when an attack happens against humans because very often the dog has been conditioned to be aggressive.

It is thought support for the practice of dogfights comes from a number of sources. Fights draw crowds for entertainment and gambling, says Bennett. “Even children are betting on the dog fights.” He adds that pit bulls are seen as status symbols.

There is also a link between dog fighting and gangsterism. Gangster dog-owners have been known to have fight dogs mark the territory in order to throw South African Police Service (SAPS) sniffer dogs off the scent of narcotics when police come into the territory on drug raids. Police also often find drugs and firearms hidden inside dog kennels, says Bennett.

How to stop it

“Everything surrounding dog fighting is speculation because there is no proper research regarding this cruel crime against dogs,” says the NSPCA’s Christine Kuch. She says that information is frequently received from the public, but it is so general in nature that it cannot be acted upon - or the authorities are often alerted too late.

The Athlone police concur with Kuch’s point: no one has been prosecuted because residents report dogfights at public meetings, when the fight is long over. Both the NSPCA and the police have urged the communities in which these fights happen, to help them put an end to the practice. Dog fighting is a crime, and penalties include two years in jail, fines of up to R300 000 and compulsory community service.
(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, October 2010)

Sources:Ryan Bubear, Bad dog or bad owner?; Cape of Good Hope SPCA press release: SPCA concerned over increase of pit bulls on Cape Flats.

Read more:
Dog bites in kids on the rise
Dog bites can give kids PTSD
When a dog's bite is worse than his bark


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