Dog fighting in Northern Ireland has been “cracked” after the exposure of one of the Province’s main gangs several years ago, the USPCA said yesterday.
David Wilson of the charity was speaking after a number of men were convicted of cruelty offences this week, detected after a PSNI raid found mobile phone footage of cats being fed to a pack of dogs.
On Tuesday a father and two sons from east Belfast pleaded guilty to charges linked to animal cruelty and animal fighting.
Jeremiah Kirkwood, 43, and his sons Christopher, 23, and Wayne, 20, who are all from Island Street, appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.
Each admitted to causing unnecessary suffering to four terrier cross puppies in 2011. They pleaded guilty to possession of items for use in connection with an animal fight, namely a CD7 battery pack, handheld lamps, a green dog harness and an animal trap.
They also admitted a charge of keeping or training animals for an animal fight. The final charge related to four bull lurcher dogs.
A co-accused, 19-year-old Jamie Edward Morrow from McAllister Court in Belfast, admitted a charge of keeping or training an animal for a fight, namely a whippet cross Staffordshire bull terrier.
Mr Wilson told the News Letter yesterday that generally the type of people involved in dog fighting could be described as criminal elements who also have “other things going on in their lives”.
“But dog fighting itself has decreased here since the BBC Panorama documentary in 2007,” he said.
The programme exposed a Tandragee dog fighting gang known as The Farmers Boys.
“It exposed the hard cases, betting on formal fights around the country. That was cracked in the documentary.
“This case [this week] was different. This was people pulling animals to bits for leisure.
“In one of the mobile clips the cat ran up a tree to escape. But someone shook the tree until it fell out. The dogs were waiting below and killed it.
“In another case a clip shows a cat inside a metal cage. The cage is opened and the dogs grab it and kill it.”
He said in both cases the sight and sounds of the cats being killed are very distressing.
“A few of the dogs were bull terriers but they were mainly lurchers,” he said.
The law changed recently to allow people to keep Pit Bull terriers as pets Mr Wilson said, but only if they apply to have them specially licensed.
“Then they must be microchipped, muzzled and on a leash in public,” he said.
He accepts that many owners may not have applied for the special licence, but nonetheless said there has been a noticeable shift in public attitudes.
“There are certainly less Pit Bulls about visually. People used to treat them as a tattoo on a leash, loading them up with lots of bling. But I just don’t see that sort of thing around now compared to a few years ago.”