The spectre of illegal dog fighting has reared its ugly head again. Nationalist MP Mario Galea admitted he had been shocked to learn that this heinous form of animal cruelty had made an unwelcome return in recent months.

Animal welfare legislation specifically lays down that “animal fights shall not be organised and nor shall animals be entered for animal fights”. But it appears that dogs, which are inclined to maim seriously or even kill each other, are again being used in an illegal dogfighting ring similar to the one that was busted a few years back.

Sources have indicated that the fights are probably using breeds such as the pit bull, favoured by trainers for their obedience and willingness to continue fighting even through extreme pain and exhaustion.

Dogfighting has a long and bleak history. It can be traced all the way back to the Roman Empire, where dogs were pitted not against each other but against other animals, such as elephants, bulls and bears. The dog of choice then was the English mastiff (or a variant), followed much later by the English bulldog. As the centuries went on, bear- and bull-baiting became more popular. When these forms of animal fights were outlawed, dog-on-dog fighting became more popular. Today, no civilised country allows it.

The police and animal welfare officials are investigating the latest reports of dogfighting but, to be successful, the public must come forward with any information they may have about such practices. Vets too should report any injuries they deem suspicious.

The illegal fights are believed to happen in the early hours, usually on Sundays. Investigation and prosecution would be much easier if the culprits are caught in the act. However, those involved in this ‘sport’ employ methods that make it difficult for the police to get to the ‘fighting arena’ unnoticed.

Although attendance at dogfights is believed to have dwindled, it is feared the brutal ‘spectacle’ has become even more violent. Vets will tell you that dogs used for fights are typically raised in isolation, spending most of their lives on short, heavy chains and conditioned for fighting through the use of repeated violence against them and the rewarding of any extreme behaviour.

There are clues that indicate a dog could be used for fighting. The first signs are visual. Common features include pit bulls in heavy chains, scarred dogs and the feeding of vitamins, drugs or vet supplies (including testosterone, steroids and cocaine) to such animals.

Dogs that are trained to participate in fights would probably have had their ears cropped and their tails docked close to their bodies to minimise the animal’s normal body profile by limiting areas that another dog could grab hold of during a fight. Since it is illegal to make these bodily alterations to pets, owners of fighting dogs would tend to keep their animals locked out of sight of prying eyes.

Dogfighting is a barbaric, cruel and condemnable practice, apart from being illegal. If anybody suspects or witnesses dogfighting activity – or notices any of the tell-tale signs mentioned above - they should immediately contact the police, the Veterinary Department and/or the Office of the Animal Welfare Commissioner and report it, providing as many details as possible, including the time and place and their reason for suspicion.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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