Earlier this year, a group of charities commissioned a survey on a range of issues. Given a list to pick from, they were asked which they were most concerned about. To many people’s surprise, the issue which came 4th for ‘extreme concern’ was dog-fighting. (The top 3 were the influx of refugees on the UK, impacts of NHS cuts and privatisation, and child abuse).
Asked why, people said they were appalled at the barbarity of this cruel ‘sport’ banned in Britain almost 200 years ago. But they also said they believed dog-fighting was on the increase, and expressed fear about pet theft for use in dog-fighting.
Are they right? Calls to the League Against Cruel Sports’ Animal Crimewatch line back claims by a national newspaper that “certain breeds are being taken by crooks – either to be sold on the lucrative black market or to be used in violent dog-fighting rings”.
Staffordshire bull terriers are the breed most likely to be stolen, with West Yorkshire, London and Kent the top ‘hotspots’. Police forces and pet insurance companies alike have started to advise pet owners how to prevent their dogs from being stolen from back gardens.
A League report published last December revealed that dog-fighting is now taking place every day in towns and cities across the UK. It pointed to a rise in urban dog-fighting between gangs. A recent investigation by undercover League officers found colonies of feral cats being used in ‘sparring’ sessions, fighting dogs being given drugs and electric shocks, and a ready underground supply in banned breeds.
This extract from a League intelligence report about a bait dog is typical: “The dog has old scarring to legs, chest and neck. It had black sticky glue consistent with gaffer tape all over his muzzle. He had rope burns to the two front legs and the fur had been worn exposing pink skin. This is consistent with long periods of the front legs tied to prevent attacking other dogs.
“It had blood all over his front feet with all claws bloodied from scratching at hard surface indicating long periods of time locked up. A lemon was taken from a fridge and a knife was used to cut it. At this point the dog screamed out in fear and terror.” When a dog doesn’t fight hard enough or don’t want to fight, lemon juice is squeezed directly into its eyes.
The League is looking at why this brutal blood-sport is back on Britain’s streets. Some things are already clear, though. Penalties for those caught are woefully lenient – a maximum 6 months in jail, compared to several years in many of our European neighbours. And the lack of a national register means those banned from keeping an animal can simply get another animal to abuse.
Almost 40,000 people have signed a national petition for tougher sentences and a national register of convicted dog fighters.
We are urging anyone with information about dog-fighting, to please contact our Animal Crimewatch line on 01483 361108.