Sting smashes dog-fight ring

By Juliet Rowan

Eight pit bull terriers have been seized in a sting the SPCA hopes will lead to the third major prosecution for organised dog fighting in the country.

The dogs, ranging from 8 months to 14 years, were seized from a property in Kaingaroa, near Rotorua, on Tuesday.

The SPCA, Rotorua animal control officers and police were involved in the operation, which also netted dog-fighting videos and literature, and equipment used to train dogs for fights.

The equipment included chains, weights, treadmills and "break sticks", used to prise dogs apart when their jaws are locked together.

The owner of the dogs will face charges of keeping, owning and breeding dogs for the purposes of participating in animal fighting ventures, the SPCA said yesterday.

SPCA inspector and prosecutor Jim Boyd, who led the operation, said the 47-year-old owner was one of the top two or three "dog-fighting exponents" in the country.

Mr Boyd said the animals seized included breeding females and pups.

"Some are young dogs obviously destined for the fighting ring."

The oldest dog was a male which had produced several generations of pit bulls known to the SPCA.

The seized dogs could be worth thousands of dollars each, depending on their lineage.

The dogs showed no obvious sign of involvement in fighting, but were unlikely to lead pleasurable lives if they did, said Mr Boyd.

"They can get killed or seriously maimed and have to be put down."

Mr Boyd said 10 dogs registered by the owner had died in the past three or four years.

The country's first successful prosecution for running an organised dog-fighting ring was in Northland in 2003.

Four pit bulls were destroyed after their owners, Melissa Molly Jane Berryman and Johnson Dale Murphy, were sentenced on three charges brought by the Bay of Islands SPCA under the Animal Welfare Act.

They were each ordered to do 200 hours of community service and to pay $1000 in costs. They were also banned from owning or caring for animals for three years.

Mr Boyd said dog-fighting rings were difficult to detect because they operated under great secrecy.

Fights might be held in cowsheds or warehouses on city fringes. In some cases spectators were picked up and taken to locations where they could not see where they were going.

"This is a whole culture of its own."

Mr Boyd said the practice, which gleaned owners profits from bets placed on their dogs, was abhorrent and needed to be stamped out.

"The level of pain, suffering and torment that goes into it for the dogs is not acceptable."

The pit bulls seized on Tuesday were removed by expert dog handlers in the presence of eight police officers.

They are being kept in undisclosed locations to prevent the owner knowing their whereabouts.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, the SPCA has the power to hold animals indefinitely if it has concerns for their safety.

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