An NNN-SABC Special Report by Nina Oosthuizen
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 15– Eighteen people will stand trial in the Nigel in Greater Johannesburg Thursday after they were arrested in November 2013 for their involvement in illegal dog fighting in Tsakane in the East Rand area of Johannesburg.
“Because there are so many accused, a fair number of witnesses to testify and a lot of legal representation, the trial is taking a lot longer. We have actually been in trial for three days over different months and this is now the next piece of the trial. Hopefully it will start going a little quicker now,” said Inspector Wendy Wilson from the NSPCA Special Investigation Unit, who has been actively involved with her team in combatting the scourge of dog fighting syndicates in South Africa.
Fourteen pit bulls were rescued in the raid with all the dogs except one having sustained horrendous injuries from the fight.
This trial will commence on the back of reports that children as young as nine were found role-playing dogfights at a school in Springs, highlighting how deeply infused this violent crime is becoming in South African communities.
“It’s not only about the children owning dogs or sourcing dogs, or actively involved in the action, in the crime of the dog fighting, it’s them role-playing the dog fighting which they are witnessing and causing quite substantial damage to each other and other children. You know a child as young as nine is going to in act what they are seeing and their role players are involved in,” said Wilson.
People are becoming more aware about the detrimental impacts of dog fighting but, according to Wilson, the awareness levels are still slower than the growing trends of dog fighting which has rapidly increased in South Africa.
“Whether you are empathetic to the animals or not, it is proven that dog fighting has a direct impact on a community. The levels of crime and violence and you have to live with rises and it has a direct impact on what children are feeling and how they are developing,” says the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA).
Dog fighting can be broken up into three different levels of sophistication with the biggest increases seen in the low level fighters.
“The lowest level in terms of dog fights would be the townships fights in the rural areas. It’s very impromptu and there’s no training or organiZation involved. The dogs which are bought for very low prices are either stolen or bred on a very low level basis. There’s not a lot of gambling involved, it’s more about prestige and owning the winning and strongest dog. Sometimes it’s gang-related, about turf wars or even drug related.”
There are different dynamics which drive the lower levels but here the community is hugely important in combating the dog fights. It is incrediblY harmful to a community as it encourages disregard of the law and erodes empathy.
“Wherever you have dog fighting, two things go hand in hand; you’ll find a a raised level of violence in the community as well as a decaying community’ so it’s very strong indicator that there is going to be future violence. You need to stand up and talk about and give the information to the right information and not stand for kids or adults or anybody else engaging in the crime,” said Wilson.
The medium level fights are slightly more sophisticated and gambling is rife as a lot of emphasis is put on the breeding and selling of as many puppies as possible from the winning dogs.
“The so-called hobbyists involved at this level invest in dogs who are better bred with more ability; and you’ll generally only find the American pit bulls fighting here. A lot of emphasis is placed on getting back the money that they spent on the dog.”
Finally the most dangerous of all the levels are found with the high level fights which involve extremely organized crime members who are ruthless with their investment of creating killer machines.
“The people involved with high level dog fights are very sophisticated and deeply underground. There are long periods of training involved with the dogs, lots of investment into bloodlines and the training of that bloodline. There’s quite a substantial amount of gambling involved but it’s about having the prestige of that winning dog and breeding with that grand champion dog.”
The high level fights are organized long in advance with the surprising use of Social Media platforms. “It makes it much easier to organize dog fights through Social Media, the Internet and distributing live streaming. It makes it much easier for them and much harder for us to get info on.”
Dog fighting is a world-wide problem, one that South Africa is actively involved in with South African-bred and raised puppies found in illegal dog fights globally.
With South Africa competing on an international level, it involves dogs being flown out of the country to different countries and would involve people traveling with their dogs as there is an international trade in bloodlines.
Wilson said: “There’s a lot of international movement going on in South Africa and sadly because of our sometimes more lax law enforcement, South Africa is becoming a destination of choice for all crime, not only dog fighting but wildlife crime, criminal crime, it’s a soft place to have your business.”
A lot of people would recognize the actual act of dog fighting as cruel and resulting in suffering but they do not realise the huge amount of suffering that happens off scene.
“Many dogs are bred and lots of them don’t make it as there’s atrocious and gruelling training which stems from the mass production of these dogs at some of the levels. There’s a ‘kill-off’ and ‘die-off’ situation where the dogs that they don’t think will make it are sacrificed to other dogs,” Wilson added.
These dogs are often kept in very bad conditions, on chains for their whole life in the back of properties and are very rarely taken for veterinary treatments because taking a fighting dog for vet treatment may raise suspicion or cause someone to report it.
“These dogs as a whole, not only the fighting dogs but the breeding dogs used to train; they all have a pretty raw deal,” she said.
“The Animal Protection Act of 1962 specifically relates to the illegality of dog-fighting in South Africa. It states that in the crime of dog-fighting in South Africa you are not allowed to engage in any part of it.
“It’s not only the actual fight, causing the two dogs to fight, it’s the breeding of those dogs, the importing of those dogs the moving of them, the owning, the keeping of them absolutely anything to do with fighting dogs is illegal in this country.
“Dog-fighting on any level is seen as a severe crime in South Africa and even spectators who have nothing to do with the fights will be prosecuted. You are not allowed to watch a dog fight, you are not allowed to be on the property where the dog fight is supposed to be held, it hasn’t even been held yet, it’s going to be held. You’re not allowed to be the property owner of a property that is having dog fights, you’re not allowed to lend your property to dog fights, you’re not allowed to be involved in any way, every aspect of dog-fighting is illegal in South Africa.
“Every single person has a part to play in combating or fighting dog fighting in South Africa. Whether you as a community stand up as a whole and kick dog fighters out, stand up and speak about it.”