Picture: Bullit Marquez/AP/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Durban - As schools close on Friday, animal rights activists are looking to the midyear holiday with dread, saying empty schools in some suburbs will be turned into dog fighting pits.

“We are in a panic,” said an animal rescuer who would not be named. “During school holidays, dogs are kept in schools and fights take place at night.”

She said the practice of dog fighting had increased and it was becoming more accepted.

She had expected that people would be more aware of the associated dangers after the exposure of dog fighting, but more dogs were being stolen daily.

Dogs on heat wandered the streets looking for partners, making it easier for them to be captured, she said.

Senior inspector Wendy Willson, manager of the Special Investigations Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), said there were different levels of sophistication in dog fighting.

“The lower levels of impromptu fights that take place on streets, open veld or in abandoned buildings, are often seen by passers-by and are easy to report. The higher, more secret levels are the ones that are more difficult to locate. But with more people standing up against this cruel criminal activity, these dog fighters are also getting caught and being sent to prison,” Willson said.

Lynda Saunders, founder of The Hidden Truth, said the organisaton was barely two months old but was uncovering a large amount of information about dog fighting.

The Hidden Truth, in the process of registering as an NPO, was dedicated to raising the awareness of and combating dog fighting.

Saunders said they wanted to go into schools and educate children because they were used to steal dogs, and were paid with DStv subscriptions, designer trainers and phones.

“The rate at which these dogs are disappearing, and the breeds of dogs being taken, is indicative of something going on,” she said, adding that many dogs were also stolen for breeding purposes and for the security industry.

Saunders said she started noticing a pattern of a number of dogs, especially power breeds (Rottweilers, pit bulls and bull terriers) going missing on a weekly basis.

She said 165 dogs went missing from March to May, with 63 of them being power breeds. Of the 165, 86 were stolen in May alone, with 79 being taken in March and April. Fifty percent of dogs stolen in May were pit bulls or pit bull crosses, 17 were pups and 15 were power breed pups.

The rescuer said what could account for more dogs going missing in May was that female dogs were on heat.

“Sugars addicts, in places such as uMlazi, Chatsworth and Phoenix, would bring a female on heat to lure dogs they want to steal. These dogs would go crazy and break out of their premises,” she said.

Saunders said they had only recovered a few dogs and these were usually dead.

She said they kept records of all missing dogs, dogs that were recovered, where they went missing from, where they were found and in what condition.

“We’re also keeping track of dogs found dead at the side of the road,” she said.

According to Willson, dog fighting was taking place “everywhere”, including in affluent suburbs. Every culture, race and income level were involved at some stage.

She said fighting dogs were found and rescued on the lower south coast, and a successful prosecution was secured.

According to the NSPCA, every prosecution by its Special Investigations Unit this year had resulted in direct imprisonment sentences, which have ranged from 10 months to five years, even when the accused pleaded guilty, was just a spectator to the crime or just housed fighting dogs on their property.

Call the NSPCA Special Investigations Unit on 011 907 3590 or email information to [email protected] All calls are anonymous.

Daily News