March 27, 2013 12:09 am

Rumours of dogfighting ring heat up in central Alberta

Authorities in central Alberta say despite numerous calls about alleged thefts of large breed dogs and rumours of a dogfighting ring, they have yet to receive enough evidence to launch a formal investigation of the mounting claims.

Authorities in central Alberta say despite numerous calls about alleged thefts of large breed dogs and rumours of a dogfighting ring, they have yet to receive enough evidence to launch a formal investigation of the mounting claims.

Herald files/Getty Images

Warnings are popping up on social media and in online classified ads cautioning dog owners that larger breed pooches are being stolen and forced into a dogfighting ring in central Alberta.

Numerous Kijiji ads posted this past week indicate culprits are grabbing dogs from backyards and picking up strays in areas including Sylvan Lake, Red Deer and Innisfail.

The ads advised against giving dogs away for free, warning that canines are also being obtained through classified sites for nefarious purposes.

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In addition, animal lovers are taking to rescue organizations’ Facebook pages to post stories about dogs disappearing in their communities, with some raising concerns that they are being used in organized dog fights.

But authorities say they have not received any reports or complaints that they can act on, and need more evidence before launching an investigation.

Roland Lines, spokesman with the Alberta SPCA, said he opened a file on the issue after receiving several calls starting Thursday.

“We haven’t as yet received any actionable calls, though. Nothing specific enough for us to investigate. It is, at this point, just rumour and hearsay,” he said.

He added he’s not aware of any organized dog fighting happening in Alberta in recent history.

RCMP in Sylvan Lake, Red Deer City and Red Deer County also confirmed they have not received any reports of dog fights or dog thefts, but would investigate if they did, as would Sylvan Lake bylaw officers.

“We’re not saying there isn’t (a dogfighting ring),” said Joanne Gaudet, spokeswoman with the Town of Sylvan Lake. “We just haven’t seen anything that would otherwise confirm or substantiate these claims.”

She said dogs found with wounds could have been injured in coyote attacks or by negligent owners. Rumours of dead or mutilated dogs discovered in ditches or on roadsides just aren’t true, she added.

However, some animal groups are adamant dogfighting rings do exist in the province, and that the dog owners who have been victimized are just too frightened to come forward or don’t believe authorities will help.

“There’s just too many stories. It can’t all be a coincidence,” said Melanie Crehan, president of the Sylvan Lake and Area Serenity Pet Shelter.“Frustratingly enough, people who have the hard evidence are scared. They don’t believe the RCMP will do anything, nor the SPCA.”

She said people have been contacting her with tips on rural properties where dogs are being pitted against each other, or telling her stories about their dogs being lured onto tarps, then wrapped up and whisked away in pickup trucks.

But she said these people need to contact authorities with specific information for something to be done.

Jessica Nagorski, president and founder of Hope Lives Here Animal Rescue in the Red Deer area, echoed Crehan’s sentiments. Whether it’s dog fighting or not, something illegal is going on, she said.

“It’s so strange to me that all these bigger-breed dogs have gone missing in the past few months. It’s 10, 20, 30 missing every single week,” she said.

“People need to know, unless they come forward to the RCMP, (this problem) is going to remain anonymous. They need to get it out there. They need evidence to do something about it.”

© CALGARY HERALD, 2013

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