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Bred to die – dog fighting on the increase in UK

A HARD-HITTING report in the April issue of Reader’s Digest exposes the shocking truth that dog fighting, thought to have been largely stamped out in Britain, is back and on the rise. According to the RSPCA there are currently an estimated 100 ‘hardcore’ operators organising dog fights in Britain.

Dog fighting enjoyed a heyday in the seventies and eighties before the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act made it illegal to breed American Pit Bull Terriers, the dog fighter’s weapon of choice – but a so-called ‘loophole’ in the act has allowed new types of crossbreeds to be bred. Police find it hard to prosecute someone for simply owning one of these dogs as often they can’t prove that they are close enough to pit bulls to be unlawful.

The article details how the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, headed by Inspector Ian Briggs, raided a garage at the back of a house in an ordinary Cambridgeshire town. When Briggs and 12 police officers closed in, the garage doors burst open and four men ran for the house.

Just moments earlier, they’d been ranged round a makeshift wooden ring, watching two Pit Bull ‘type’ Terriers gouging and ripping at each other’s throats.

The article goes on: ‘Briggs’ undercover unit had been investigating the garage owner, Andrew Crowe, for months after being tipped off that he was involved in dog fighting. Now, they had hard evidence.

Inside Crowe’s house, police found a tarpaulin with blood stains on it and two "breaking sticks"—pointed pieces of wood pushed into dogs’ mouths and twisted to separate them during a fight. There were more blood stains spattering the floor and walls. "It was an appalling sight," says Briggs.

As Crowe and his associates were arrested, the two dogs were found in a downstairs room where they’d been hidden. Blood poured from deep wounds to their heads and faces; one dog’s ear was all but torn off. A third bull terrier was chained to a post outside, its body covered in ugly, half-healed scars. All three dogs were later put down.

The early evening raid was part of Operation Flute, a nationwide crackdown on dog fighting that uncovered a network stretching from Nottingham to Cornwall. It led to the conviction of seven men, among them 36-year-old Crowe, who in July 2002 was sentenced to six months in prison.’ The article goes on to draw attention to what the RSPCA refers to as a loophole in the 1991 DDA, that allows new types of crossbreeds to be bred, such as the so-called ‘Irish Staffordshire Bull Terriers’ owned by Andrew Crowe.

"The police find it hard to prosecute someone simply for owning one of these dogs," says Butcher. "They often can’t prove they’re close enough to pure pit bulls to be unlawful. The only way to stop the dog fighters was to set up a series of undercover operations.

And dog fighting is certainly on the increase, as explained by RSPCA Special Ops Inspector Mike Butcher: ‘ Now we’re getting a new breed of supporter,’ says Mike Butcher, "gangs of kids on estates. They’ll get, say, a mastiff and a bull terrier and set them against each other. You see the fights on CCTV, but it’s difficult to identify who’s involved because they cover their faces with their hoods.’

‘Men such as Mike Butcher, who has had a hand in every successful prosecution in the past 20 years, are on a mercy mission to halt dog fighting. ‘It’s abhorrent and barbaric,’ he says. During his investigations, Butcher has uncovered grisly evidence of how pit bulls are tethered to treadmills to improve their stamina, cats tied to the end of the treadmill as bait.

The brutality starts early for fighting dogs. Aggressive puppies are singled out for training that can include early sparring matches against weaker dogs.

Although the RSPCA is lobbying the Government for a maximum sentence of at least a year, currently the longest jail term the courts can impose for dog fighting is six months. ‘There’s one guy we’ve caught three times,’ says Butcher. ‘He’s told me he’ll never stop and we’ll catch him again. And we will. These men won’t accept what they’re doing is wrong. Until we get tougher sentences the men who cause so much suffering to these loyal dogs will just keep coming back.’

Extracted with permission from the April 2004 issue of Reader's Digest