By Gemma Handy
They feel emotions including anxiety, fear, joy and love. Their loyalty to humans arguably surpasses any other species, and their noses are so sophisticated they can detect cancer.
Our relationship with dogs dates back several thousand years and is one of the most unique and symbiotic on Earth.
Yet man’s best friend is still being exploited by some for the barbaric practice of dog fighting.
Here in Antigua and Barbuda it remains big business in some quarters and, despite efforts over the years to stamp it out, it can be found in sequestered areas of woodland and wasteland alike, hidden from dissenting eyes.
Local veterinarian Dr Radcliffe Robins, a lifelong animal lover, is among those calling for an end to the scourge.
“Dogs do feel pain, they suffer a lot from this and it’s not something they bring upon themselves,” he told Observer.
“It’s something we should censure and be highly critical of.
“We also need to be aware that it damages our relationship with both humans and animals; the more insensitive we are to the suffering of animals, the more insensitive we become to the suffering of people.”
For most people, the very notion of watching two dogs fight each other to the death is sickening. Yet, for a small minority operating in a murky, criminal underworld, it’s a high stakes competition with several thousand dollars up for grabs for the owner of the winning dog.
The canines, often pit bulls, literally bite and rip the flesh off each other before an audience of cheering onlookers who place bets on which will win.
Generally, the losing animal dies or is killed, unless deemed to have any salvage value to its owner. Most dogs that survive do not receive veterinary treatment, regardless of the gravity of the injuries or the extent of the suffering.
Rachel Wood, of the Antigua Spay and Neuter Clinic, is set to embark on an educational campaign in local schools about animal welfare.
One component will be on the topic of dog fighting, inspired, she says, by a recent encounter with a group of children.
“A bunch of little boys, seven and eight years old, came over and were chatting away. One of the boys wanted a puppy off me,” she said.
“I asked him what he wanted it for. I wouldn’t give him a puppy anyway; it would have to be his mum or his dad.
“He told me he needs to fight the puppy because that’s where he’s going to make all his money when he gets big and this is what everyone does.
“All the other boys agreed with him.”
Wood said she was deeply perturbed by the conversation.
“At that age they know what’s going on. They see what’s happening around them and they think it’s normal. They’re going to grow up thinking it’s normal and nothing will ever change.
“The only way it’s going to stop is if the police really, really do something about it,” she added.
Karen Corbin, of the local Humane Society, said while dog fighting still occurs in the twin island nation, it’s less frequent than in years gone by.
“It does happen here but not to the extent it used to. That said, no matter how minimal it is, it is still horrendous,” she said.
Dog fighting may be illegal in Antigua and Barbuda but it’s widely claimed that people in high places are sometimes involved.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Frankie Thomas told Observer efforts were underway to eradicate it.
“It seems as if this situation is raising its ugly head again. I find it to be so inhumane that people are using this as a sport,” he said.
“The police are very much concerned and we are working along with the relevant organisations to ensure that this thing is properly addressed.
“It matters not who is involved; an inhumane act is committed and so whoever it is – when we have carried out our investigations – the necessary actions will be taken,” Thomas pledged.
He urged residents with information on dog fighting rings to come forward.
“Report it to the police and let us deal with it so that we can have a law-abiding state here in Antigua and Barbuda,” he added.
Facts about dog fighting
- Fights typically last for around an hour, and end when one of the dogs is no longer willing or able to continue.
- Injuries are frequently severe or fatal. Dogs often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion or infection, hours or even days after the fight.
- Other animals are often sacrificed as well. Some owners train their dogs for fights using smaller animals such as cats, rabbits, or small dogs.
- Children are sometimes present at fights, which can promote insensitivity to animal suffering, enthusiasm for violence, and a lack of respect for the law.
- The presence of dogs used for fighting in a community increases the risk of attacks not only on other animals but also on humans. Children are especially at risk because of their small size.