Last week, the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa reported that an upsurge in dogfighting cases in the Cape Metro could be linked to job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to find out more about this inhumane blood sport, how to spot it, and what we can do about it.

“We created first and foremost as animal lovers,” says Chief Operating Officer, David Roache, “Cruelty against any animal cannot be tolerated, and this is why the work non-profit organisations do is so close to our hearts. We encourage all South Africans to come together to advocate for harsher sentencing for those who are found guilty of participating in dogfighting.”

Remember, if you see something, say something! Dogfighting tip-offs are largely community-policed, and all it takes is one active citizen to save a pup’s life. We’ve put together a list of resources you can contact at the bottom of this article.

The facts

  • Dog fighting is illegal  under the Animal Protection Act.
  • Those found guilty of dogfighting face 3 – 15 years in jail or fines of R60,000 to R300,000, although many never face consequences for their actions.
  • In December 2019, the SPCA reported that there was an increase of 40% in dogfighting in Ocean View, Cape Town.
  • During 2019, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA attended to 6,490 cruelty investigations that led to 33 court cases being opened.
  • The Animal Welfare Society investigated a further 1,459 animal cruelty cases in 2019.
  • While dogfighting is related to criminal activities, this doesn’t mean it only takes place in disadvantaged communities. It includes people from all backgrounds, races and communities.

Why do people engage in dogfighting?

Dogfighting is made up of three primary categories: Street-level dogfighting, hobbyists, and professional dogfighting. Even though dogfighting generally has a criminal gambling component, the dogs themselves also serve as status symbols that increase the owner’s street credibility within a neighbourhood, even if no gambling takes place.

Dogfighting can happen as unstructured fights in parks, gardens, and alleys for the purpose of gambling, while professional dogfighting places an emphasis on the dog’s breeding and training, with massive sums of money exchanged between breeders, owners, gamblers, and sometimes even law enforcement.

In South Africa, prize money for dogfighting usually ranges between R300 – R25 000 for minor league fighting, while major fight prize money can reach into the millions of Rands.

What happens to people who are involved in dogfighting?

Although dogfighting is illegal in South Africa, it is desperately under-enforced. According to the NSCPA, it is still extremely popular in underground crime circles and is a highly syndicated and organised crime.

In sentencing the 2013 Tsakane dogfighting case in 2018, four men were sentenced to two years of direct imprisonment while ten spectators were sentenced to two years under house arrest. Along with the house arrest, the men were sentenced to 360 hours of community service and R50 000 to be paid to the NSCPA.

In 2019, a group of six individuals were sentenced to 2.5 years of prison time each for engaging in dogfighting.

While animal-lovers rejoice at news like this, the harsh reality is that few cases get reported and make it to the courts. The NSPCA stresses that sentencing like this relies strongly on community support, both for tip-offs and public pressure on the courts.

What happens to dogs who are forced into dogfighting?

Training a dog to become a fighter is physically and mentally brutal on these poor pups. Some of the training involves:

  • Being kept isolated from other dogs and people.
  • Being given rats and mice to catch from puppyhood. Eventually, this evolves into kittens, cats, puppies and other dogs.
  • Being forced to hang onto poles for long periods of time to build their jaw muscles.
  • Being conditioned with drugs, including anabolic steroids, to increase muscle mass and aggression.
  • Cropping and docking of ears and tails, often done in a painful and rudimentary way.

With dogfights lasting anywhere from minutes to several hours, injuries include puncture wounds, lacerations, blood loss and broken bones. Losing dogs are often discarded or killed. According to the ASPCA, losing dogs may even be seen as an embarrassment to their owner and be publicly executed.

The few lucky dogs who are rescued from dogfighting are often taken in by organisations, but they can sometimes be difficult (or even dangerous) to rehome because they have spent so long being abused, afraid, and trained to fight.

What can you do about dogfighting?

The first thing any South African citizen can do about dogfighting is learn how to spot it. Here are some of the most common indicators:

  • Docked ears and tails.
  • A dog who is chained in a garden with little human interaction.
  • An inordinate amount of fighting dogs being kept in one location.
  • A location with ever-changing fighting dogs, as they’re swapped out when dogs are injured or die.
  • Wounds and scars in various stages of healing.
  • The presence of a ring or pit.
  • Dogfighting usually happens in conjunction with other illegal activities, and at night and on weekends. Pay close attention to what’s going on in your neighbourhood.

While no dog is born a fighting dog, some breeds are selected more than others. These include:

  • Pit Bulls
  • Bull Terriers
  • Staffordshire Terriers
  • Neapolitan Mastiffs

Just because someone owns one of these breeds doesn’t mean they’re involved in dogfighting – but one of these breeds in conjunction with some of the common indicators of dogfighting can point to something more serious.

If you suspect someone is involved in dogfighting, never get directly involved. Winning dogs can fetch hundreds of thousands to millions of Rands in breeding and fighting, so owners have a strong incentive keep their dogs.

Getting directly involved can put your own safety at risk, so rather call one of these organisations:

If you suspect dogfighting is taking place in your neighbourhood, avoid posting about it on social media. Often, those involved monitor community groups and a tip-off may lead them to changing the times and locations of fights.

Although the challenge of stopping dogfighting is a difficult one because the activity is so clandestine, we should all be emboldened by cases such as the Tsakane dog fighting case. By coming together as neighbours, communities, and animal-lovers, we can put a stop to dogfighting and push for harsher sentencing for those involved.