THE BLOG

Dog Fighting - Time to Get Tough

26/05/2016 10:51

At the League Against Cruel Sports, we sadly all too often come across terrible stories of abuse and persecution of animals. As part of our work, we investigate and sometimes witness first-hand brutal, senseless violence that has been directed at animals in the name of 'sport'.

However once in a while you come across a story of an individual animal that is so extraordinary that it changes the way you see an issue.

Cupcake's story is one such case. As a story of horrific torture, it has probably made me angrier than I've ever been about something. But as a story of bravery, dedication and love - it sends a powerful message of hope.

But before I tell you about Cupcake, let me tell you the background.

A few months ago, research by the League uncovered shocking evidence that dog fighting - a blood-sport supposedly illegal in Britain for almost 200 years - could be making a dramatic comeback. Worse still, our report "Betrayal of Trust: The Tragedy of Dog Fighting" published in December 2015 revealed that it is now taking place in towns and cities across the UK...every single day.

So over the past few months, we've been conducting a major investigation to try to understand why there is a resurgence in dog fighting going on - and how we can fight it.

It has proven possibly to be one of the most distressing and traumatising investigations the League has ever done. Our team of undercover investigators, supported by partners from around 60 different organisations, discovered things we thought had long passed into the history books.

We came across evidence that the bodies of dogs killed in fights or by their owners were being dumped in the open; a feral cat colony being kept in order to supply fighting dog trainers with helpless sparring partners; dogs being electrocuted by electric cattle prods, burnt with cigarettes, tethered and tortured as bait for fighting dogs.

One person I spoke to described these training camps as 'concentration camps for dogs'.

Yet amidst this backdrop of both terrible animal suffering and appalling human depravity, we stumbled across one story that offered a glimmer of hope. We discovered a lady who had rescued a dog that had been used by dog fighters as a bait animal from a local pound. She had successfully rehabilitated it, and incredibly given the dog it's life back.

I simply had to go and meet them.

Kay agreed to meet me on condition of anonymity. Eighteen months after rescuing Cupcake, she still lives with the fear that the dog fighters might try to take her back - plunging her once more into a living hell.

She's been rescuing and rehabilitating dogs for nearly 20 years. During that time, some 40 dogs have been rescued from 'death row' in local pounds and given a new lease of life.

But nothing prepared her for the day she met a Staffordshire bull terrier called Cupcake.

"She was covered in scars. You could see her teeth had been deliberately and crudely pulled out. She was in a terrible state.

"I've never seen a dog in such a state of complete anxiety. She was shutting down physically and psychologically. She was broken."

I'm sitting in Kay's living room on her sofa. Between us lies Cupcake. She has rolled onto her back and is grunting contentedly as I rub her tummy.

It is a scene that is as ordinary as it is extraordinary. It completely belies the torment she has been put through. Yet the scars are still clearly visible around her soft brown eyes. Cupcake was 'head-slammed' by dog-fighters - a particularly violent way of 'toughening up' dogs by ramming their heads repeatedly into a wall. Her eye socket was badly damaged, and she now risks losing her sight in one eye.

"At first she would cower and cringe and try to hide if you were holding something in your hand, because she was expecting you to hurt her. She was also terrified of other dogs."

An examination by vets revealed she had also been forced to breed repeatedly - in effect, she was turned into a one dog factory farm to produce pups for use as bait.

I asked Kay what she felt about the people who had done this to Cupcake. If she was able to confront them, what would she want to say to them?

Kay falls silent. She is looking down, and I can see she is experiencing a gamut of emotions - sadness, rage, incomprehension. She has been answering a number of painful questions I've put to her about Cupcake's past over the past hour. Yet this seems to be the hardest question of all.

"They abused her because she is so trusting, because she wants so much to please you," eventually she says. "That is what is so awful about dog fighting. Dogs don't want to fight. They are conditioned and trained by terrible people to do these things."

As I tell Kay I don't understand how anyone could do this, Cupcake reaches up and begins licking my face - as if to reassure and comfort me that everything is ok.

"We desperately need to change the law," says Kay, as Cupcake snuggles back down between us.

"The people who do this can't be allowed to get away with it, which is what seems to be happening at the moment."

She has a point. There have been pitifully few convictions for dog fighting in recent years. The maximum jail term - six months - pales into insignificance in comparison with sentences applied in neighbouring European countries. Moreover, bans on convicted abusers from keeping animals are virtually impossible to enforce due to the lack of a national register.

As I left, I promised Kay we would do whatever we could to help her - and to do everything we could to send the scourge of dog fighting back into the past. For Cupcake's sake.

The League Against Cruel Sports is paying for Cupcake's veterinary bills. If you would like to make a contribution or would like to support the League's work to stamp out dog fighting, then please...

To watch Eduardo's interview with Kay and learn more about Cupcake's story go to https://www.league.org.uk/news-and-opinion/videos/2016/may/cupcakes-story-a-dog-fighting-survivor

To sign our petition calling for stronger penalties and find out more about the League Against Cruel Sports campaign against dog fighting, go to www.league.org.uk/dogfighting

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