MPs and stars back call for tough penalties and ‘national register’ to tackle offence ‘which is gateway to drug and gun crime’
Dogs slammed into walls to toughen them up for fighting, cats and dogs used as ‘bait’ to train fighting dogs, dead dogs dumped in the countryside – these are among the disturbing findings of a ground-breaking investigation into dog fighting in the UK today.
Developed and instigated by the League Against Cruel Sports as part of its campaign to end dog fighting in the UK, Project Bloodline was a six month investigation designed to understand why, when and where dog fighting takes place – and how we can stop it.
Working collaboratively with 60 partners in a ‘typical’ UK urban area, the League Against Cruel Sports unearthed intelligence which included:
- Prohibited dogs bred and sold in a clandestine market in order to supply the high demand for status and fighting dogs with Pitbull ‘type’ puppies being sold for £1,000
- Before a fight has even taken place animals are left severely injured or are even killed having been subjected to brutal training methods including body or head slamming
- A feral cat colony being kept to supply ‘bait’ for dog fighting
- A Staffordshire Bull Terrier which had been used for ‘bait’ had its teeth crudely pulled and broken with pliers so that it could not defend itself
- The bodies of dead dogs, which had been used for fighting, dumped near farmland
Eduardo Gonçalves, CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, who will be launching the report of Project Bloodline in Parliament on Tuesday, 24th May, said:
“If anyone thinks dog fighting is a thing of the past, then sadly they are wrong. Last year we commissioned a ground-breaking academic report which said that a dog fight was taking place every day in the UK. This year we’ve taken to the streets to find out exactly what was happening, and the results are frightening.
“Dogs are being bred and sold specifically for fighting, pet animals are being used to provide a steady supply of torture victims for cruel training exercises where they are tethered down or used as dangling ‘bait’ for dogs being trained to fight for ‘fun’ – the cruelty behind this underground world is endless and it’s happening right under our noses.
“We want appropriate penalties to be introduced, and for appropriate action to be taken against perpetrators. Dog fighting is barbaric and we cannot allow it to be part of a modern Britain.”
Ricky Gervais in response to the League’s findings said:
“I am deeply saddened to hear that illegal dog fighting is apparently on the rise in the UK. Anyone who likes the spectacle of two terrified animals fighting is a psychopath. Dogs are naturally loyal friends, who have to be abused and mistreated to act in this way. They don’t want to be part of this. They are literally fighting for survival. Please never attend anything like this and if you suspect such a disgusting event may be taking place somewhere, then please report it immediately. This has to stop.”
A ‘gateway’ crime
Dog fighting is not purely a matter of animal welfare. Evidence from the UK and abroad points to the activity being a ‘gateway’ crime to serious and organised offences, such as drug and gun crime. In the United States dog fighting is recognised as a Grade A felony by the FBI and the practice of tackling dog fighting to prevent other crimes is well established.
The League Against Cruel Sports worked closely with Michelle Welch, Virginia’s Assistant Attorney General, who has vast experience of tackling dog fighting in the USA. She said:
“Dog fighting is a major crime that here in the States is closely linked with a wide range of other law-breaking. Statistics show that more than half of those connected with dog fighting are gang members, and seven out of ten have previously been arrested for felonies and/or drug offences. Where there is dog fighting, there are drugs.
“Dog fighting is hidden, so the work being done in the UK by the League Against Cruel Sports is exactly what needs to happen. Collaboration between agencies, strong penalties and a greater understanding of the level of this activity is vital. The League Against Cruel Sports should be commended for Project Bloodline as without this kind of work, dog fighting will grow and have an ever-increasing negative impact on individuals, communities, and of course on the dogs.”
The Way Forward – PUP
Based on the intelligence and experience gathered from Project Bloodline, the League Against Cruel Sports is calling for the implementation of a national dog fighting action plan which can be rolled out in any area where dog fighting is prevalent.
Based around three areas of Prevention, Understanding and Prosecution (PUP), recommendations include:
- The formation of a National Task Force, led by a senior figure in Government, to ensure sufficient collaboration and action takes place to tackle dog fighting across the country.
- Details of individuals banned from keeping dogs should be held on a national register by statutory agencies, helping to prevent further offences being committed whilst increasing opportunities for enforcement action.
- Legislation and penalties for offenders must be clarified and strengthened; the League is calling for a minimum three year custodial sentence for convicted dog fighters. Sentencing should reflect the spectrum of offending in relation to dog fighting (from street level dog fighting to organised crime). Rehabilitation programmes should be offered as part of the sentencing mix.
- The Dangerous Dog Act should be reviewed as a matter of urgency as we believe breed specific legislation is fundamentally flawed.
Celebrity and political support for campaign
The League’s campaign to end dog fighting in the UK has been backed by a list of celebrities and cross party MPs including: Ricky Gervais, Amanda Holden, Paul O’Grady, Russell Tovey, Nicky Campbell, Peter Egan, Tony Robinson, Bill Oddie, Dave Spikey, Marc Abraham, Alison Steadman, Ben Fogle, Gemma Atkinson, Carol Royle, Henry Smith MP for Crawley and Co-Chair of the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare, Kelvin Hopkins MP for Luton North, John Pugh MP for Southport, Margaret Ritchie MP for South Down, member of the Commons Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee and Lisa Cameron, MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.
Commenting on the issue and the League’s campaign, Henry Smith MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare said:
“Dog fighting is an abhorrent pastime belonging to the past. Convicted perpetrators need to face appropriate punishments, however currently our courts lack the vital power to impose these – this needs to change if we have any chance of stopping dog fighting for good.
“I support the League Against Cruel Sports with their campaign to both increase the available custodial sentences to at least three years and their call for a national register of animal abusers.”
Britain’s Got Talent judge, Amanda Holden said: “I can’t think of many things worse than making two dogs fight each other. Dogs are loving animals, to abuse them like this is horrific.”
Eduardo Gonçalves concluded:
“Dog fighting is one of the most serious animal welfare issues in Britain today and it is also a serious issue of crime and community safety. Animal abuse has consistently been shown to be a reliable predictor of some of the most serious and most violent crimes in the community, including child abuse, domestic violence and abuse of the elderly.”
The League Against Cruel Sports believes there has been a resurgence in dog fighting in urban areas in the UK. A range of different factors have led to this conclusion, including the results of Project Bloodline, increases in UK hospital admissions due to dog bites, increases in the number of muscly dogs on the streets and the apparent growth in the number of stolen dogs, possibly used for bait. Dog fighting might not be easy to see, but we ignore this evidence at our peril.
“The League will now be stepping up its ongoing investigation into dog fighting in Britain. We will be stepping up engagement with local communities to prevent those at risk from being drawn in. We will be doing further research to help policy-makers and law enforcement agencies better understand the causes, and the potential solutions. We will be partnering with a range of agencies to support the rehabilitation of rescued dogs.”
The League Against Cruel Sports has started a petition calling for the government to more effectively tackle dog fighting, including increasing sentences for convicted dog fighters. The petition can be signed at www.league.org.uk/dogfighting.
Anyone with information about dog fighting taking place in their community can confidentially contact the League Against Cruel Sports Animal Crimewatch service on 01483 361108 or at www.league.org.uk/crimewatch.