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Irish football star ‘outed’ as dog fighter

A TOP Gaelic footballer's future career was in doubt after he was exposed as being heavily involved in an illegal international dog-fighting ring.

Gerard Cavlan, an All-Ireland medal winner with Tyrone, is a senior figure in a dog-fighting operation known as The Bulldog Sanctuary Kennels, a television documentary screened by BBC Northern Ireland alleged.

The 17-month investigation by the BBC, which uncovered 15 illegal dog-fighting gangs in Northern Ireland, has cast doubt over the sporting future of Cavlan, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, who was fined £650 this year for possessing a dangerous dog.

During secret filming Cavlan boasted about the animals' strength and skill in a fight and claimed to have up to 15 dogs.

Cavlan reportedly said of a dog: ‘Sure he had him in the chest, and he shook him and he shook him for 25 minutes ... If he hadn't got you killed in half an hour ... he was in trouble, you know. A real hard-mouthed dog.’

The revelations appear to have shattered Cavlan's claims earlier this year that he was not involved in the savage sport. In April, Dungannon Magistrates’ Court was told that Cavlan, 30, had merely collected the dog from kennels for a Dublin man, and was not involved in any other illegal activities.

However, during covert recording by the BBC, and after being raided by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Cavlan admitted that he still had ‘a dozen or 15 dogs’.

The investigation also uncovered a trail to Finland where breeders prepare animals from as young as 10 months to be exported to Northern Ireland.

In Finland, the documentary team won the trust of Robert Gonzales, a Pit Bull breeder, who explained how easy it was to export the banned dogs. When asked if he had registered a dog being exported as a Pit Bull on its animal passport, Gonzales explained that he tricked customs officials by marking it as a mixed breed.

‘I've imported a lot of dogs so I know how to fool, fool the Customs ... all you need is a computer and a printer.’ Said Gonzales.

The investigation discovered 15 illegal dog-fighting gangs in the North - five of them based in Belfast and some with connections to international organisations. One gang, The Farmer Boys, was infiltrated and found to be involved in fighting matches across Northern Ireland and abroad.
Cavlan, who was a member of Tyrone’s 2003 All-Ireland Championship-winning side, made no comment, but the Belfast daily The Irish News quoted him as saying: ‘I felt victimised by the BBC and this has been a witch-hunt from day one.’ The matters in the documentary were unconnected to him, he added.

‘I have pleaded guilty and accepted my conviction and paid my fine. I want this matter to come to an end so I can put it behind me’.

During his judgment earlier this year, magistrate Eamon King urged Cavlan to live up to his position as a role model. ‘We want people to imitate you in all that’s good – i.e, your successful footballing career - not in the type of activity that takes place in backyards in the dark of night involving one animal going face-to-face against another,’ he said.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Assembly First Minister Ian Paisley called upon the province to tighten up its dog licensing laws in the wake of the programme’s findings.

‘It is clear that the Irish Republic's law on the licensing of dogs is being exploited to forward this outrageous activity,’ said Mr Paisley. ‘All who saw those pictures will have been horrified by the vicious and grotesque scenes.’

Speaking publicly after discussing the matter with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Mr Paisley said a review of legislation in the Republic would ‘go a long way in helping the authorities on both sides of the border to ensure the animal abuse is stopped’.