Cape Town - They’re winning the war on dog smuggling, but animal rescuers are discovering the law has no bite.
With 372 dogs rescued from a brazen syndicate of smugglers, the National Animal Welfare Task Team – established just two years ago to bring down the canine smuggling cartel – is a success story. However, for its energetic leader Mariette Hopley, there is still a long way to go.
“It’s all calmed down a bit: we do not have the large numbers of dogs crossing the borders that we saw (in 2012),” she said.
When the organisation was first formed, the cartel was operating almost unchecked, running about 120 000 purebred dogs over the border in Angola to be bloodied in fighting pits or reared in breeding pens.
Last month, during the organisation’s latest bust when Hopley pulled over a truck loaded with 12 pups in Cape Town, the driver was someone she recognised. “We’d arrested him before.”
In 2012, the same man was part of a duo that tried to smuggle boxes of purebred puppies on a plane leaving Cape Town International Airport bound for Angola. According to Hopley, these dogs – like most of the others rescued from the cartel – were most likely stolen from homes.
The alleged smuggler was charged with theft and falsifying documents, but was later released on bail.
“These guys spend a bit of time behind bars and then they are out again, up to their old tricks,” said Hopley. She blamed the Animal Protection Act, which she said both failed to “protect” the animals and properly prosecute the smugglers.
Animal welfare organisations are banding together to put pressure on the government to amend the act and impose stricter punishments for anyone found guilty of abusing animals.
The Cape of Good Hope SPCA in Grassy Park has since last year made the decision to only take in stolen dogs confiscated by police if the police pay. With previous busts, the SPCA was forced to foot the bill for looking after the animals while the “police let the case slip through their fingers”. said the organisation’s Allan Perrins.
“They just don’t seem to take this seriously at all, and when we ask them to pay up they ignore us. We haven’t seen a cent from looking after these stolen dogs yet.”
Of the 370 rescued dogs, Hopley said only 12 had been reunited with their owners while the rest had been adopted. She urged people to look out for trucks or bakkies loaded with dogs as they may be bound for the Angolan border.