and PAULA RABELING
Animal welfare organisations say botched home surgeries are only one of many cruel practices common in the underworld of dogfighting.
Owners who use their pets in dogfighting syndicates often resorted to home surgeries, such as cropping their dogs’ ears, apparently to boost their chances of winning.
But SPCA chief veterinarian Dr Kukie Harris said these operations were often botched and done without anaesthetic, with serious implications for the animal.
He warned that surgery performed by unqualified people meant the animal would suffer extreme pain, which could lead to shock or blood loss, either of which could cause death.
The use of equipment that had not been sterilised could lead to bacterial infections and prolonged pain.
Blue Cross Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Liam Bebbington believes that ears are cropped so a fighting dog is less likely to be injured.
He said some owners took their animals to vets as a last resort, when they were unable to treat severe wounds received in dog fights.
“Most dogs are probably treated by the owners, as a visit to a vet runs the risk of being reported. I would become suspicious if a dog, probably a pit-bull terrier, was presented to me with bite wounds by an owner who did not seem too emotionally concerned,” he said.
Ear cropping and tail docking have been banned as illegal practices, except in the presence of medical conditions.
According to the South African Veterinary Council, the Animal Protection Act dictates that anyone involved in dog fighting could face criminal prosecution. SPCA chief executive Allan Perrins said owners put their dogs through vigorous training to prepare them for brutal clashes.
This included chaining them to a treadmill and making them run for periods as long as five hours.
The process of training a dog for fighting, he said, often began as soon as the puppy opened its eyes. A stick with feathers, known as a “flirt”, was used by owners to test which puppies showed the most aggression. The “flirt” was later replaced with living creatures such as smaller dogs and cats.
Perrins said dogs fought one another in “pits”, including empty swimming pools. “Often, if a dog is badly injured and loses the fight, the owners will kill the dog,” he said.
Perrins said a notorious figure in dogfighting circles was someone nicknamed “Hammer”, who killed the losing dog with a hammer.
Because pitbulls were a popular breed used for fights, they had acquired a bad reputation. But rather than condemning the breed, people should “condemn the deed”.
Since April last year, the SPCA has received 82 reports relating to dogfighting, and 18 dogs have been rescued.
The SPCA has operations under way to clamp down on dogfighting, but says infiltrating dogfighting circles is difficult.
Marge Kruyt, spokeswoman for
The Emma Animal Rescue Society (Tears), said fighting dogs were difficult to rehabilitate. They often tried to attack those who tried to rescue them. Tears regularly received tip-offs about dogs injured in suspected fights.
“Tears often sees the innocent victims of dog fights. They are often badly injured and so aggressive you can’t even socialise them.”