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A violent and savage example of man manipulating nature to fulfil his own curious bloodlust, dog fighting is rightly banned nearly everywhere in the world. Our shocking investigation uncovers the reality – dog fighting has far from disappeared, in fact it’s a hobby that is distressingly alive and well….and appears to be on the increase!
In England and Wales the police and RSPCA, and in Scotland the SPCA have worked extremely hard to crackdown on organised dog fights for decades. As with most illegal activity, complete eradication or stemming the desire of the criminals who are intent on participating is virtually impossible.
The UK dangerous dogs act outlawed the breed which is most popular with dog fighters, the American Pit Bull Terrier. However those who were and still are determined to fight their animals have been able to retain bloodlines and we’ve uncovered examples of Pit Bulls from certain lines, bred to particular specifications that are changing hands for several thousands of pounds.
Dog fights are usually organised events that take place in secret locations such as derelict buildings, warehouses and farm buildings.
Betting on the fights is big business and making money is, as often the case, a major factor in the continuation of dog fighting. The importance placed on gambling, dog fighting events and the people who take part in them, is a 3-tiered set-up. Professional dog fighting trainers will travel around the world to make money on their successful fighting dogs.
There are those who are involved at a ‘hobbyist’ level and then there are ‘street fights’, which are less organised events and are usually gang related. Street fights focus on ‘pride’ amongst gangs and usually weapons and drugs are a never far from the action.
Once acquired, a fighting dog is put into a systematic, rigorous and extremely professional training regime. Treadmills are used to improve the animal’s endurance and days of starvation are used to stimulate and increase the dog’s prey drive.
Fighting dogs in training are treated by their owners like prized athletes, they are fed raw meat and the dog’s body weights are measured constantly almost in the same way as professional boxer would be monitored by his trainer.
A few keyword searches on the internet and we were taken aback at what was available to people with a penchant for pit fighting in terms of readily (and legally) available training equipment and the wealth of knowledge and information at hand on the ‘sport’.
The training schedule of a pit-fighting dog can often see the animal placed in a confrontation with another aggressive, usually terrified animal. Reports of cats, other dogs, foxes and even badgers being used to ‘initiate’ the pit-fighting novice are commonplace.
An even more horrifying practice centres around the procurement of unwanted pet dogs being used for the pit-fight trainees ‘first kill’. There are confirmed examples of dogs being advertised as ‘free to a good home’ being taken by people involved in the dog-fighting fraternity only to meet a tragic, petrifying and sadistic death locked in the jaws of the pit-fight trainee within hours. Death, blood and violence is a par for the course in the dog fighting world, compassion or conscience for the ‘losing’ dog is not an issue the average dog-fighter will concern themselves with.
The fights are relatively straight forward affairs. Two dogs of equal size and weight are placed into a ‘pit’ or circular confined area with the objective being for one dog to maul the other until it is either incapacitated or dead. Because of the nature of the dogs and the level and expertise of the training that goes into them before they go into a fight, the dogs can be engaged in battle for upwards of several hours. Quick endings are extremely un-common. The dogs who aren’t killed in the actual fight may die from their injuries later on, may be destroyed by their owner at the scene or may be given recuperation time before they enter training for their next contest.
There are numerous websites of pit-fighting dog breeders who have ‘memorial’ pages for their animals who have died from injuries received in fights. From these we calculated most ‘active-fighters’ are dead by the age of four. In some cases a dog or bitch may have had a successful fighting record and may be lucky enough to have their life spared in order to be bred from, thus keeping their line going.
The websites dedicated to dog fighting are varied. Some of them were mere boasting outposts for people wishing to brag of the prowess of their particular dogs or lineage. Other sites had something called a gallery of heroes where you can see pictures of champion fighters accompanied by lists of defeated opponents and methods of victory.
Message boards for dog-fighters are disturbingly busy affairs with lots of contributors. Alongside adverts for ‘on fire’ dogs (dogs currently on good fighting form) and puppies from the stock of successful fighters, were notes of advice on the best training paraphernalia, methods for constructing pits and more. You could be forgiven for thinking these people were talking about something akin to obedience trials or working dog tests by the manner in which they openly discus methodology, tactics and other fight-related issues.
Cheating is as commonplace in the dog fighting world as it is in other competitive sporting environments. This is done in many different ways and for different purposes. Sometimes it can be for betting advantages where a dog will be given steroids in order to enhance performance or a competitors dog may be doped in order that it is unable to defend itself properly thus virtually guaranteeing the outcome of the contest.
When a dog does not appear to be ‘game’ (the mood for fighting) its owner stands to loose a lot in terms of his reputation as well as his money. Reputation is important as this ex-dog-fighter explains who did not provide a name, suggests:
“People enter a show (dog-fight) knowing what their dog’s capability is, but after 15-20 minutes if their dog is not doing what he/she is supposed to, the dog is helpless and all he/she can do is defend himself with wrestling ability until the more experienced dog will eventually get a hold which will ultimately see the defending dog die. It’s not the done thing to pull your dog out of a fight even if you can see very early on that he/she is going to be killed.
The shocking reality is that dog fighting has a market, a support-base and most incredibly, from the evidence we gathered a participation level equivalent to several mainstream dog sports and activities.
In many countries it is not illegal to have a dog which is clearly in training for fighting. In-fact most, if not all of the training equipment we discovered is perfectly legal such as:
Chain and axle mechanism. These devices are used to tether a dog up around other dogs. They are designed to give the option of how much freedom (potential for gaming) the handler wants the dog to experience. So this means he can leave his dog to ‘train’ while he is not there. In other words, the dog is free to fight, but can’t get away.
O rings. These are designed to go around the neck of a fighting dog when in training. They help reduce injury to the neck and can also be helpful in reducing head movement when handling the dog.
A Jenny. A Jenny is a chain and pulley mechanism which aids training. It incorporates a bait cage that is used to ‘wind up’ the dog. It is not uncommon for a badger or dog to be lowered into the pit.
Breaking Stick – A round or wedge shaped stick used for the parting of fighting dogs.
Bull Snap – A strong device for attaching a pit dog to a chain
Who’s Doing Anything About It?
The police do whatever they can based on the information they receive but as with most organised criminal activities, dog fighting rings are notoriously difficult to penetrate in order achieve successful criminal convictions. Likewise, the animal protection charities around the world work tirelessly to try to achieve convictions when a dog-fighting ring is broken. In the US the ‘culture’ attached to dog fighting or owning a trained pit-fight dog has been under the spotlight recently as there has been a growing trend of rap musicians being seen as glamourising the ownership of fight-trained dogs. The American Pit Bull Terrier is legal in the US and is a popular breed with certain ‘gangster rap’ artists.
Our investigation shockingly illustrates just how popular dog fighting clearly still is. Its underground nature appears to give the pastime even more of an appeal to the type of people who are involved, but the mainstream manner in which its participants are willing to discuss the subject and the legal availability of the paraphernalia used to train fighting dogs means dog fighting won’t just go away overnight. Famous, influential people who are seen to be popularisig the dog-fighting culture in America will undoubtedly give further credence to the notion that this a sport to be enjoyed by thrill seekers or wannabe gangsters.
A tougher penalty for convicted dog fighters is the only plausible means of dampening down the participation levels. Appealing to the better nature of someone who is capable of responding to a plea to re-home a dog on the understanding that it will be given a better life only to condemn the animal to a surefire, brutal death within hours is unlikely to succeed. The threat of 5 years behind bars for such an act of wanton cruelty and violence may just have the desired effect.
The current maximum sentence if you are convicted of dog fighting? A) 6-months. The maximum sentence if you are convicted of trying to conceal the profits of your dog fighting operation from the tax-man? A) 5-years. Fair and just? You tell us.
DOG FIGHT FACTS:
The R.S.P.C.A have a national phone line where calls concerning cruelty to animals can be made in confidence: 08705 555 999.
Japan appears to have one of the biggest dog fight scenes in the world. The fights are not always intended to be fatal and they are judged by independent adjudicators.
There are two types of ‘match’ in Japan, The first is traditional Japanese where defeat is declared as soon as one dog either turns away from its opponent, whines, yelps, barks or moves more than three steps away from its opponent.
Should none of these outcomes occur, the winner is decided by a system akin to point scoring in boxing based on: which dog had the most aggressive attitude, inflicted the most injury to its opponent or managed to hold its opponent down for the longest period of time.
The other type of fight is based on the western style of ‘scratch and turn’, whereby the first dog that turns to look for a way out of the scratched pit (the ‘pit’ is marked out by scratches on the ground) loses. One dog will always look for a way out if he can get one.
Winning Japanese dogs are ranked in the same way as Sumo wrestlers. The best fighting dog is crowned ‘Yokozuna’ and is even given ceremonial dress.
Dog fighting terminology
Ace – A pit dog of exceptional ability and skill, with more wins than a grand champion, over the best.
Blood Stopper – A powder for the checking and stopping of minor bleeding
Bloom – Dogs in top condition are in full bloom;
Conditioner – A person who conditions and shapes a pit dog for a pit contest
Courtesy Scratch – To face the dogs in the pit and release the loser to see if he will attempt to cross the pit and fight, thereby testing gameness
Cur out – To quit from a lack of gameness
Dog Pit – An area of specific dimensions for the betting, holding, testing, and viewing of fighting dogs
Drag Fight – During a contest when dogs spend long intervals out of hold
Drain – A means of providing a discharge of fluids from a wound
Fanged – When a fang has penetrated a dogs own lip and is stuck there
Game Test – To test the degree of gameness by consecutively rolling and scratching a dog after tiring
Keep – The housing, method, and place of managing and conditioning a dog
Open To Match – A dog of specific weight being offered to match into equal weight; open weight
Pit Rules – The guides or principles laid down to control and govern fighting
Pit Weight – The most effective performance weight of a pit dog at a pit contest; conditioned weight; match weight
Plucky – Having courage or pluck
Protector – The iron collar once placed on a bear used for baiting with dogs; a collar made to protect the neck
Register Of Merit – R.O.M.; recognized on paper as having produced champion match dogs
Scratch – A dogs willingness to cross the pit and take hold of his opponent according to the rules of the match agreed upon
Scratch Line – A line drawn across the corner of the pit from which the dog must not cross until the referee says to let go
Shock – Bodily prostration; exhaustion of vital powers, fluid therapy is needed
Turn – When a pit dog turns his head and shoulders away from his opponent. Official turns are described differently in various sets of rules
Turntable – A flat round table that turns under the dog as he treads in place for conditioning and shaping; round mill; table mill
Yard – A lot used to keep a yardful of dogs.
This article was first published in K9 Magazine issue no 9.
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