Cape Peninsula pets are being fed as bait to dogs being trained to kill as part of what animal rescue organisations say is a growing appetite for the banned “sport” of dog fighting.
The fights are sometimes heard but seldom seen except by those involved in making money from the bloody spectacle.
The SPCA’s chief inspector, Andries Venter, has warned that smaller dogs, especially Maltese poodles, are being stolen to incite fighting dogs and to train them to kill.
He urged the Cape Argus to make the problem public.
“(Then) a lot more people will come forward who have had their pets thrown to fighting dogs,” he said.
Karen de Klerk, the public relations officer for Animal Rescue, said: “Dog fighting is rife across the peninsula, and it is not confined just to poorer communities.”
Colette Teale of the Karoo Animal Protection Society said an injured bull terrier she rescued in Paarl had been stolen from Fish Hoek about nine months ago.
“It was full of wounds, on the side of the road with two men I knew had been using it for fighting.
“They sold it to me because it looked like it was going to die anyway. But it survived, and we tracked down the owner in Fish Hoek.”
She suspected that the disappearance of more and more dogs from the area around Barrydale was linked to dog fighting syndicates.
Pitbull fighting was an “absolute scourge” in Ocean View near Fish Hoek, said Marilyn Hoole, co-founder of the Tears animal rescue organisation.
As part of the pitbull’s training, some owners “put them in a small enclosure and then throw a cat or a puppy in for them to rip to shreds”, said Hoole.
“I feel desperate because the situation is getting out of control. One of these days it is going to be a child that is shredded.”
She estimated that someone’s pet was savaged “almost daily” in Ocean View.
Even children were drawn into dog fights.
“Some children threw a puppy at a pitbull, who bit it in half like a ball,” she said.
Hoole said the fighting dogs’ owners were mostly young men who paraded through Ocean View’s streets with their animals straining at chain leads.
“When the owners see smaller dogs, they set their dogs on it. The pet owner then phones us for help, and we usually have to foot the vet’s bill. Thankfully, the local vets all charge us a reduced rate, even after hours,” said Hoole.
“Apart from the cost, the trauma that poor animal goes through is devastating. The injuries are usually around the throat and neck, where the fighting dog has gone for the jugular or windpipe.
“Some injuries are in the groin where the testicles are ripped out and there are huge tooth holes in the soft tissue.
“Sometimes, the intestines are ripped out. One dog had a huge hole in its head.”
A Fish Hoek vet, who asked not to be named, described as “severe” the pet injuries he had treated after pitbull attacks in Ocean View.
“We get dogs through Tears on a weekly basis. It is definitely happening,” he said.
Breeding and owning fighting dogs was becoming more popular, especially on the Cape Flats, said the SPCA.
Venter said he was aware of the illegal dog fighting.
“It is very difficult to catch them. You have teenagers who need a quick buck, so they steal someone’s dog and go and have a fight,” he said. A smaller dog was used as bait. “They wave it in front of the chained pitbull, or throw it on the ground for the pitbull to attack.”
He urged dog owners whose pets went missing to put up notices immediately at the local vet’s offices and at animal welfare organisations.
“Don’t just leave it for a day or two and hope the dog will come back,” said Venter.
Feeding smaller dogs and rabbits to fighting dogs brought out the fighting instinct, said Animal Rescue.
“If your dog isn’t a competent fighter, you are not going to make money. It is all about creating a fighting dog, and the only way you can do that is by setting it on something to kill,” said De Klerk.
Hoole said breeders were selling pitbull puppies for vast sums. She urged legislation requiring all breeders to be registered by the state.
“The government should also introduce legislation to control the number of animals per household and to bring in compulsory sterilisation.
“All domestic dogs should be sterilised, and welfare organisations working in the townships should have the authority to sterilise an animal.”
The police were usually too busy to investigate reports of dog fights.
The Fish Hoek vet said: “We need a task force to determine the extent of dog fighting in different areas. If it is found to be prevalent, then obviously clamping down on it through law enforcement is necessary.”
In the meantime it was important to create awareness so that public pressure could bring about legal reform.