It’s a brutal blood sport. A fight to the death match. Dog fighting rings involve high-stakes gambling and spectators bet on which breed has the stamina to win.
Animal welfare organizations and canine search-and-rescuers say it’s happening in parts of Alberta.
Saving Grace Animal Society‘s executive director Erin Deems said it’s been difficult to find evidence, but insist it’s a reality.
“People in our province don’t want to believe something so horrific could be happening in our backyard.”
“They are so underground, getting any information or anyone to talk about it is next to impossible,” Deems said. “We don’t want to cover this up and act like it’s not happening: when we see something we say something.”
Those on the front lines of animal care are convinced this kind of cruelty is happening because they’ve taken in a number of dogs believed to have been involved.
“They are marked and that’s how they do betting. You’re betting on the blue dog or the pink dog in regards to the fight. There’s no microchips or identifiers to link these dogs back to anybody so it’s a dead-end everywhere you look,” Deems said.
Sweetpea, a pit bull, is the reason Deems wants to uncover this inhumanity. She cared for and adopted Sweetpea after she was rescued.
“When she came into my life there was just no denying it, her wounds appeared to have been from a dog fighting ring,” Deems recalled.
“Her scars weren’t from one bad day: it was an accumulation of multiple injuries over a long course of time.”
Her ears were carelessly cropped; she was emaciated, battling infections and covered in lacerations.
“It breaks my heart to think that anyone is that much of a psychopath.”
The country’s only forensic veterinarian treats the animals suspected of being used in these rings. Dr. Margaret Doyle has been involved in investigations.
“We looks for treadmills because they are athletes and going to be worked,” Dr. Doyle said. “There will be heavy tires, they get the dogs to pull weights in the gym and things like jump poles, they hang things in trees like small rodents to improve their bite strength.”
“Like boxers in a ring, they are trained to fight. If it gives up before it’s dead, it’s shame on them.”
WATCH: Many suspect dog fighting rings are operating in Alberta. As Jill Croteau reports, rescue organizations are lifting the veil on a well-kept secret they say is happening in our own backyards.
Dr. Doyle said these canines are often pumped up with stimulants like amphetamines and given diuretics to get them lean before weigh-in’s. They are also forced to ingest vitamins that enhance blood clotting to avoid needing veterinary care.
“I live in a world where there has to be evidence — there has to be absolutely scientific evidence for me to say ‘yes it’s happening,’ and a couple of the key cases were ones that made me suspicious,” Dr. Doyle said.
Alberta SPCA and RCMP say there are no active cases. Cst. Mike Hibbs encourages people to come forward.
“If it is true, it is very concerning. You have animals put under tremendous stress and tremendous injuries and we are certainly concerned about what’s happening and want anybody with any information, to please contact us,” Cst. Hibbs said.
Melanie Crehan runs Serenity Pet Shelter Society, serving the community of Sylvan Lake and surrounding areas. She too has taken in injured animals believed to have been involved in dog fighting rings.
“We get reports a lot and we saw damaged dogs, so I know it exists. There’s too many people reporting it to think it doesn’t exist,” Crehan said.
“It’s about power and control and money, greed in a very cruel and sadistic way.”
Throughout central Alberta, there’s been a huge increase in the number of dog thefts and missing animals over the past several months.
Kim Taylor operates “Remote K-9 Search and Rescue” out of Sundre. She is an expert in lost dog tracking and believes the thefts are connected to dog fighting rings. Taylor says her caseload has almost tripled.
“If any one of these dogs was truly lost and died due to environment, we would quite literally be tripping over 100 bodies a day — that’s the bottom line. We are not seeing the bodies turning up,” Taylor said.
“For me to see these kinds of numbers, I am really worried.”
“I am worried for Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.,” Taylor said. “There’s definitely something going on here and it’s way deeper than just someone taking a dog because they wanted a dog.”
She said criminals are becoming more bold.
“These people don’t care, they will take your dog out of your yard, it doesn’t matter if your dog is vicious. What does it take to throw some drugs into a piece of meat and throw it over a fence and your dog is unconscious?”
“It takes three seconds to throw a catch pole around that dog and drag it into a kennel, and within a couple of hours your dog is in another province,” Taylor said.
She said people need to take the blinders off and acknowledge it and keep watch for yourself and your neighbours.
“Nobody wants to stand up and say ‘yes there’s dog fighting rings,'” Taylor said. “I’m telling you don’t be delusional — of course there is.”