Former Police detective Mark Randell has dedicated his life to fighting animal abuse, not just here in the United Kingdom but right across the world. Today he writes in the Havering Daily about dog fighting and gang crime.
Two years ago today I was advising on TV in the Donbas region of Ukraine, close to the Russian border, about how abusers were fighting Anatolian Shepherd dogs, using an excuse that they were being trained to protect animals from wolves, although it was obvious from the undercover footage that the motivation was for pleasure.
I recently wrote a piece on ‘status dogs’ and mentioned the horrific ‘sport’ of dog fighting. I noted two good books on this subject in the UK, Dr Simon Harding’s “Unleashed” and Justin Rollins’ “Status Dogs and Gangs”. Justin, who was once a teenage gang leader himself, examined why people want so-called “status” dogs and how they are inextricably linked with the gangs in London.
My first awareness of dog fighting happened when I was involved with investigating a gun-running gang in the UK back in my policing days. The gang would fight dogs as recreation from their ‘business’ as firearms traffickers and this is so often the case.
Last summer, many years of investigation work came to a head in Athens when an organised crime gang were ‘taken down’ by the Hellenic Police. Guns and cash were recovered from a group who had been using extortion on individuals and businesses around the port, even resorting to causing explosions. And yes, they were dog fighters too.
A New York cop once quoted that more narcotics are recovered from dog fighting warrants than drug warrants. The crimes are inextricably linked.
Organised crime, as per the House of Lords’ library is defined as “Criminal activity that is planned, coordinated and committed by people working individually, in groups, or as part of transnational networks. It usually centres on acquiring money, profit, influence and power.” However, not all organised crime is a priority for the police, there are matrices that determine what those priorities will be, and they never include animal abuse, which in my view is an opportunity lost. Investigating dog fighting would open many doors that otherwise remain closed to law enforcement.
Within the training that I run for police officers around the world, I cover animal abuse at 3 levels, neglect, intentional and organised. The first is about failing to provide for animals’ basic needs. The second requires intent to abuse and the third involves people, acting together to commit abuse. Animal fighting is the best-known organised abuse but horrifically there are also abusers that work together to coordinate sexual violence against animals. Animal fighting around London is restricted mostly to dogs, but I suspect cock fighting also takes place.
Dog fighting is often classified into ‘levels’ with those at the lowest level not really being coordinated, more having impromptu battles. At the top end, there is a huge amount of sophistication with rules, schedules, training regimes and awards in much the same way there are around human boxing bouts. Dogs that win or breed winners are worth more money and I’m aware of up to £50k being bet on matches, matches that can pitch dog against dog for up to 4 hours until one loses and is withdrawn or suffers often lethal injury.
I have a friend, a lawyer based in Atlanta, Georgia who trains law enforcement on how animal fighting and gangs are intertwined in the city. It would be naïve of police in the UK to believe that this is not present in some form in London. Between 1820 and 1830 the ‘Westminster Pit’ existed in side street not a stonesthrow from the Houses of Parliament. The pit was 20 feet by 18 feet with the equivalent of bleachers that would hold 200 people. 200 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for the dog owners to cheat (not surprising for someone willing to abuse an animal) and rub poisons in their dog’s coat before the fight. For that reason, the animals were often bathed in milk before each match. It was interesting to see therefore that when I was contacted after a raid in Bulgaria, the police had recovered gallons of milk at the crime scene.
That’s how organised this is. In the 21st Century, animal abusers can learn how to abuse from one country to another, simply by researching the internet. It’s not even hidden. As I was writing this piece, I found fighting dogs advertised on public Facebook groups and even on Twitter.
200 years on from the Westminster Pit, organised animal abuse continues. It’s now just on Facebook.