by   David Hancock

Organised dog-fighting has a feature which is unique amongst criminal activities: a successful prosecution brings the greatest punishment to the victim. The convicted humans receive jail sentences or a substantial fine; the dogs forced to take part are sentenced to death, those which survive death in the ring, that is. There is rightly little sympathy for the human culprits; sadly there is no compassion for the dogs. I appreciate the manifold problems of rehoming dogs made to fight each other; I just wish some form of rehabilitation for them could be attempted. It is rare, I believe, for a dog used in organised fights to be aggressive towards humans, despite the justification which might exist for that. Organised dog-fighting in Britain in the past seemed to be centred in the West of Scotland, where the Blue Paul fighting dog was favoured and in the Black Country of middle England. The Blue Pauls were a shade of blue-grey but their gene pool included Red Smuts, red-tan dogs with black muzzles; both were prized by gypsies around Kirkintilloch and were twice the weight of the dogs favoured in Staffordshire. Both types fought for wagers. Both types were family pets not caged 'prize-fighters' only there for bouts. After the Act of 1835 forbidding this dreadful activity, the Blue Pauls disappeared but the Staffordshire dogs became in time a KC-breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of today.

But where are the studies into dog-fighting, why it's conducted, how it's justified and what is its purpose? Is there a distinct sort of personality who is attracted to such a barbaric activity? It has appealed to all types from Lord Camelford to Bill Sykes, but are they the same type under the skin?  Lord Camelford owned a dog called Belcher which survived 104 fights; it is not recorded how many dogs he was made to kill. When two champion dogs Boney and Gas fought each other at the Westminster pit on January the 18th 1825, the pit was illuminated by chandeliers and over 300 spectators attended. They would have been a mixture of street hooligans and 'young bloods', as street hooligans of nobler birth were described in those times. Did such men feel tough by attending such an activity? Did they think they would be regarded as 'hard' if they patronised such a place for such an activity?

It is difficult to fathom the rationale behind dog v dog contests, which are staged from Mexico to Milan and from the Himalayas to the Philippines. Gambling of course has always played a major part in such odious activities and surviving winners can command relatively huge fees in breeding programmes. But what kind of man participates? Do they consider themselves 'hard' by taking part or consider it a way of demonstrating their toughness - there is a world of difference between being tough and acting tough; those who try to appear tough by engaging in cruel activities unwittingly reveal their actual lack of toughness immediately. In Japan the Tosa dog-fights are really betting contests based on muzzle-wrestling between two huge dogs. The contestants are eager to win but do not savage their opponent, however distasteful such a conflict can sound. The breed of Tosa is banned in Britain but is shown at European and World Dog Shows without displaying any sign of aggression towards other dogs. It appears to be a stable, predictable breed - mainly a family pet. Dog versus dog contests have little appeal in the world at large. 

Yet, dog-fighting is a popular village sport in places like Afghanistan and Nepal. The Gurkhas were honest about it, the cash rewards from gambling on the dogs were the main attraction. I have heard of a well-educated very civilised wealthy American lawyer who kept fighting dogs because he admired courage in his dogs. I was once asked by some travellers whether my Bullmastiffs were 'game', a word often used as shorthand for a willingness to fight. Apart from the fact that the mastiff breeds have an instinct to seize and hold rather than savage and would be completely unsuitable for fighting, I have always been able to respond with 'Why on earth would I want them to be?' (This in the knowledge that two different veterinary surgeries have praised my dogs for their wonderful temperament, when being treated). Making your companion dogs, quite needlessly, display their courage, pluck, gameness, ferocity, aggression, whatever you choose to call it, seems to me to be a very transparent cover for human cowardice. Bravery by proxy is not bravery at all.

In Afghanistan, dog-fighting although banned by the Taliban, is once again the equivalent there of soccer here, it is so popular. Kabul is the hub of this national passion,, with each fight attended by thousands. The dogs are strongly-made dogs of the Powendah type, their ears are cropped off, their tails all but removed, and the value of a successful dog quite remarkable for such an impoverished country. A top fighting dog can realise 500,000 Afghanis (in the region of £7,0000). At a top fight two million Afghanis can change hands, with gambling also attracting relatively huge wagers. Most of the dogs' owners are former military commanders who made fortunes during the years of civil disorder. Weekly fights take place at Badam Bagh, a rundown northwestern suburb of the capital. Dog fighting there is associated with power, it seems to make the participants feel like men with status, influence and deserving envy.

But even here where there is a long history of organised dog fighting, the dogs are given a high fat diet to ensure their outer layers are substantial enough to withstand bites, and despite the blood, these fights are not allowed to produce fatalities, unlike those of Mexico and North America. There, the dog's bite strength is bred for and fatalities are common. It is this awe-filling bite-strength, outdone only by the hyena and the wild dogs of Southern Africa, that makes the American Pit Bull Terrier such a danger when it does bite a human being. This breed-type, like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier-type, is considered dangerous by so-called authorities, usually inexpert, misguided policemen or local authority workers, based entirely on their physical appearance, not their behaviour, which can never be justified or rationally explained. Understandably, a cry of deed not breed has become internationally adopted. Of the four breeds banned in Britain, three are revered in their native countries and both walked and shown in public arenas. The Pit Bull is banned in some American states but not nationally. There is serious public confusion here! Fighting over dogs has become the new sport; dog-fighting is now part of history in any civilised country or culture. Those promoting or taking part in such cruelty should be the target not their unfortunate dogs. Those taking part deserve only our condemnation. They are cowards hiding behind their dogs.