WATCH: The human bloodlust behind dog fights
The dogs are left bloody and torn apart, but the violence is a mirror of the societies the fights occur in
While dog fighting forms part of the growing world of underground gambling, money is not the only motivation for the recent scourge of this criminal act in SA.
Many who take part in the vicious spectacle do so purely for bloodlust.
So says the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“There are people who enjoy violence. There are people who enjoy watching a vulnerable animal suffer,” said Nadia Hansa, an inspector for the National SPCA.
A dog fight usually ends only when one of the dogs is so badly injured that it can no longer continue fighting, Hansa explained.
“Dog fighting has a number of ways of making profit for the dog fighters. One way is illegal betting on the actual fights, but the winnings can include various things. Sometimes it’s just a bottle of alcohol, sometimes it’s large sums of money or the breeding rights to winning dogs and the selling of those puppies.
“A large motivator for engaging in or even just being a spectator to dog fighting in SA is pure bloodlust. Overseas there is a focus on the money and gambling, but in South Africa the enjoyment of the bloodsport is just as important as the prize – just the ‘enjoyment’ of watching an animal suffer,” she said.
What happens to the animals – who are battered, broken, bloodied and torn apart in these fights – is usually a reflection of what is happening in the communities the fights occur in.
According to the NSPCA, in communities where dog fighting is rife, other violent crimes, such as domestic violence or violence against vulnerable people, are prevalent.
“Dog fighting is recognised the world over as an indicator of and a predictor crime. Its presence indicates that there are other crimes happening at the same time, usually criminal activities like domestic violence, violence against other people or other vulnerables, illegal firearms, illegal medications. All these crimes come together in dog fighting. So it indicates the violence levels in the community are increasing,” said Hansa.
“It also predicts future violent escalations and the degradation of the community. As these violent individuals move in, they start influencing other people, such as the children who they bring to the fights to watch. It reduces their empathy levels to the point that they start acting violent and seeing violence as acceptable themselves.”
Dog fighting is a very diverse crime, since it occurs in the poorest townships and the richest suburbs.
“There is no way to identify [a dog fighter] by looking at the person, or looking at their skill level, or their income, or anything like that. We have women who are dog fighters, we have children who are dog fighters, we have dog fighters from overseas coming to South Africa. It is difficult to profile who will be a dog fighter,” she said.
Earlier this year, a man believed to be a pastor was sentenced to two years in prison, and a family member to two years’ house arrest, for their involvement in organised dog fighting. He and a family member, who is a minor, were involved in dog fighting in Eden Park‚ Ekurhuleni, in August 2016.
The NSPCA responded to a complaint and found three pit bulls and five crossbred dogs on the premises. They were all in severe distress and five had to be euthanased.
Veterinarian Bryce Marock told Times Select about the brutal injuries suffered by animals that are prepared for fighting.
“You’ll find that the level of care is poor once the dogs have done what they need to do. So you’ll generally find untreated injuries and broken bones, infected and broken teeth, a lot of external and internal parasite infestation. This is a brutal sport and there’s no way to describe the horrific state of some of the dogs that have been presented to me by the NSPCA inspectors,” said Marock.
“There are just some cases where these dogs are completely destroyed physically.”
Animal behaviourist Morgane James described a life of isolation suffered by fighting dogs, which were often kept in appalling conditions and have minimal contact with other animals unless to attack.
Reversing the psychological effects of such grooming is possible but can be difficult.
“Unfortunately, at times they are too damaged,” said James. “Everything they have been taught is negative and harmful and that’s all they know."
The dogs are put through intense assessments and programmes to help them heal from physical and psychological trauma.
If things go well, it is possible for them to be placed in loving homes.
“We have to be cognisant that these dogs have been trained for fighting and can pose a threat to other animals, so we have to be responsible in terms of who we home to and how we home. With many of these dogs, as we help them to heal, we go through the different processes, the different things that trigger them, the different things that frighten them, and we try and work to see how we can help them to work through each of their levels, if they can work through it,” said James.
“So, with the dogs that have been homed, obviously we put a great deal of time and effort into finding the right people for the right dog, and there has to be bond between them. We are exceedingly cautious with the process because we don’t want our rescue dogs to fail. It’s wonderful to see that of all the animals we homed, we have people coming back and saying why didn’t I get [this type of dog] before?”
In a bid to put an end to dog fighting, the NSPCA has brought about 50 cases to criminal courts for prosecution since 2015. It has had a 100% conviction rate in the cases they have closed, and hundreds of dogs used in these fights have been rescued.