TIED up, tortured almost to death, abandoned in boxes and set on fire – this is the fate of dozens of helpless dogs across Cornwall used as part of an illegal underground fighting syndicate.
Redruth charity Last Chance Hotel, which rehabilitates abused and abandoned dogs, says there has been a rise in the number of ‘bait dogs’ used across Cornwall.
Bait dogs are tied up and thrown into a ring and set upon by two fighting dogs to get them riled up before they tear into each other.
Volunteers at the charity said dogs advertised as ‘free to good homes’ were often takento be abused and urged owners not to give their pets away.
Sarah Edgcumbe, from Last Chance Hotel, said Cornwall’s rural landscape made it an easy area for dog fights to take place undetected.
A report from a local vet confirmed rescued animals’ injuries were consistent with use as bait dogs, she said, but despite the cruelty they had faced, they had gone on to become loving, affectionate pets to owners across the county.
“Yes, the dogs take a lot of rehabilitation, but once they’re ready they go on to become so affectionate because they’ve never had that level of attention before,” she said.
“Last year the hotel took in 130 dogs from across the country and 125 were rehomed in Cornwall.
“What we’d like to see, and what could help with [preventing] dog-fighting, is to stop people giving away dogs ‘to a good home’. They’re taken by owners who wish to have little [input] in raising them right, and are often sold on to become bait dogs, or worse.”
Chief Inspector Mike Butcher of the RSPCA confirmed to the West Briton that illegal dog-fights took place throughout Cornwall.
Although this secretive world could be hard to penetrate, investigations were under way aimed at stopping the cruel sport in the county.
According to intelligence gathered by the RSPCA, dog- fight organisers moved from the United States to London and then branched out across the country, eventually making their way to Cornwall.
Mr Butcher said the type of fighting described by Last Chance Hotel might be low-level but was no less “sick”.
“Professional dog-fighting is run by a team who do it for the kudos,” he said.
“What’s being described here is organised in a sense, but I’ve never heard of the top fighters using bait dogs: but we have had reports on top fights that do happen in Cornwall and investigations are under way right now in the area to put a stop to this.
“Our last conviction was around two years ago. We always welcome intelligence.”
Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed they had executed warrants in the past in relation to dog-fighting, but the last was two years ago. However, they would welcome any information about dog-fighting and could treat it confidentially.
RSPCA spokesman Andy Robbins said special officers were deployed to investigate claims of organised dog-proactively.
“The inspectors are part of the RSPCA’s special operations unit,” he said.
“They have been responsible for a number of large dog-investigations through the years, which have resulted in many dog-fight organisers being successfully prosecuted.”
It was hard to track down the criminals in Cornwall, he said: “Many keep their dogs in kennels, out of sight of the public, and use treadmills to build their dogs’ stamina and fitness, while maintaining a strict diet for the dogs.
“They often treat them much in the same way as a boxer, working to a fixed regime ahead of a fight.
“Some dogs that end up as strays or in rehoming centres may have marks on them that have come from fighting with other dogs, but not as a result of being used in organised dog-fights, which are very different from chance ‘scraps’ in parks.”
Ms Edgcumbe said Last Chance Hotel was urgently seeking more foster carers to look after the dogs it was trying to rehome.
For more information or to adopt a dog see the website www.lastchancehotel.org