A DOG fighting ring was smashed in a series of police raids in Merseyside late last week.
Eight pit bull terriers – one of the breeds banned under the Dangerous Dog Act - were seized after officers raided addresses in St Helens and Widnes on Thursday evening (January 3rd).
Six of the dogs were taken from an address in St Helens, just five miles from the Eccleston house where Ellie Lawrenson was mauled to death by her uncle's pit bull. Two others were seized at an address in Widnes.
It is understood some of the dogs were being trained for underground dog fights.
One had its ears cropped- a common practice for dogs specifically bred to fight and a procedure that has been illegal in the UK for over 100 years. A large number specialist dog food supplements were also found although police would not comment on the removal of items related to training fighting dogs.
The raids were staged after a tip-off from a member of the public. Currently the dogs are being held by police as investigations continued into whether the owners would face prosecution.
An official police video of the dogs’ seizure which appears on the Liverpool Echo’s website shows the dogs being removed. Interestingly, none of the dogs are being restrained by leads or catchpoles, but are happily wagging their tails as they are led and carried to waiting police vans.
And over last weekend another known dog-fighting venue holding 14 pit bull terriers was raided during the largest operation of its kind in Merseyside.
Officers, backed up by animal welfare teams, swooped on an industrial estate in Aintree after tip-offs from the public and information from the earlier raid.
They found equipment used for training fighting dogs as the pack of illegal breed animals, some of which were injured, were discovered.
The raid brings the total number of dogs seized within 24 hours up to 22, after an address in Croxteth was targeted and seven adult pit bulls and a puppy were picked up. A 37-year-old man was arrested for offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act and released on police bail pending further enquiries.
Officers uncovered documents during that investigation that led them to the second operation at Hartley Avenue on Saturday morning. The building was still being searched on Sunday night by the force's specialist dog team.
Supt Chris Armitt said: ‘Following the tragic events on New Year's morning in St Helens, members of the public have come forward and provided Merseyside Police with information about where dangerous dogs are being kept. We have acted upon this information quickly, which has led to the seizure of 22 dogs within 24 hours in north Liverpool.’
Officers are expected to target a number of other properties in the region before plans for an amnesty come into being.
Teams from the RSPCA have been on hand during the operation.
RSPCA Chief Inspector Mike Butcher said: ‘We are currently assessing the health of the seized dogs, and ascertaining if wounds some of them carry are consistent with dog-fighting.
‘Dog-fighting is a brutal, organised crime of which the dogs are the victims. Sadly, this dreadful and barbaric sport is still practised in underground pockets throughout Britain.’
A Merseyside Police spokeswoman said that when police raided the industrial unit, the animals were being held in cages. Officers also seized dog training equipment, thought to include items such as high protein foods and treadmills.
Police refused to comment on whether they had found a dog fighting pit at the unit. Two other dogs were found at the premises but they were not pit bull terriers.
As reported previously in OUR DOGS, there have been calls by residents in Liverpool to crack down on dog fighters. The Liverpool Echo newspaper last year launched its ‘Bite Back’ campaign to crack down on dangerous dogs.
In August it was reported that Merseyside police were acting in cooperation with the RSPCA. At that time, one animal had been seized and 14 verbal warnings were issued to dog owners deemed to be acting irresponsibly.
The action, called Operation Dogsafe came after reports of dog attacks in the Liverpool and Greater Merseyside areas sparked the interest of council authorities. According to the police, the message was clear: ‘Anyone who sees a dog attack is asked to contact police.’
The Echo’s Bite Back campaign gained support from readers and Merseyside MPs and led directly to the police and local authority establishing Operation Dogsafe.
The operation involves police dog handlers patrolling parks and housing estates looking for irresponsible dog owners. The emphasis is firmly on tackling irresponsible dog owners rather than generalising certain breeds of dog. Despite this however, a police sergeant pointed out that certain ‘high risk’ breeds were being ‘recorded’ on a database
In November, the Echo reported that a ‘code’ used by underworld dog dealers to sell banned breeds such as Pit Bull Terriers in local newspapers has been cracked by staff at the newspaper.
Code names and terms are used by unscrupulous dealers who sell fighting dogs through newspaper pets for sale columns - disguised as legitimate breeds.
Breeds banned in the UK under the Dangerous Dogs Act are American Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasiliero and Japanese Tosa - but dealers use code names such as ‘Irish Stafford’ and ‘American Stafford’ to sneak them into classified advertising columns.
The Echo, working with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group - made up of UK animal charities - produced a definitive list of banned dog breeds, fake breeds and code words used to describe fighting dogs.
The ‘code breaker’ means that newspaper advertising staff can quickly identify any breeders trying to sell banned breeds or dogs specifically bred for fighting.
There are now calls for this code to be made available nationally to other newspaper advertising departments to allow staff to identify whether someone is trying to sell fighting dogs.