League recommendations would work opposite to stated intent
Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community
League Against Cruel Sports
New Sparling House
Surrey GU7 1QZ
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Part I of a three-part series also including: Dog attacks surge 76% in England in 10 years, coinciding with exemption of Staffordshire pit bulls from the Dangerous Dogs Act and Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapon Dogs, by Simon Harding
Two related events upstaged the May 24, 2016 release to media of the League Against Cruel Sports’ report Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community.
One of those events, occurring that very day, was the fatal mauling of unemployed carpenter Stephen Hodgson, 45, at his home in Cleator Moor, Cumbria, by one of his family’s four Staffordshire pit bulls. Attacked while watching television, Hodgson was killed despite the efforts of his two teenaged daughters to pull the pit bull off of him.
The other event, occurring on May 18, 2016 but still in the news, was a Staffordshire rampage at a fenced play park in Blyth, from which dogs were supposed to have been excluded. Fourteen of the 30 children present were bitten; three were hospitalized.
Both the Cleator Moor and Blyth attacks involved “rescued” pit bulls who were supposedly safe, but were not. These pit bulls were bred and existed in the first place because of the exemption of “Staffordshires” from the Dangerous Dogs Act.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in original form banned pit bulls and the Fila Brasileiro and Dogo Argentino crosses of pit bull with mastiff. Also banned was the tosa, a Japanese fighting breed resembling a pit bull.
A weakness of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was that it did not categorially exclude pit bulls and pit bull crosses masquerading under other names, such as bull mastiff and Presa Canario.
No deaths before the exemption
A second critical weakness of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was that it did not impose criminal penalties for dog attacks occurring on the owners’ property. This omission repeatedly allowed owners of dogs who killed visiting children, other authorized visitors, and their own family members to escape prosecution even for egregiously negligent behavior.
Fifteen people had been killed by dogs in the 10 years before the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991, according to the Office of National Statistics.
As Staffordshires and other pit bulls masquerading under other names proliferated, there were six dog attack fatalities in the U.K. from 1992 through 1996, eight from 1997 through 2001, 17 from 2002 through 2006, 19 from 2007 through 2011, and through October 14, 2016, have already been 19 since 2012.
“The intention of the Dangerous Dogs Act was to eliminate breeds like pit bulls in this country,” then-home secretary Kenneth Lord Baker recalled in a 2010 interview with The Daily Telegraph. “For the first five years it worked very well, but as soon as the Government gave in to animal charities, the whole thing was doomed.”
“Staffordshire” exemption brought mayhem
The Staffordshire exemption unleashed an explosion of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, now rising at the rate of 5% to 20% per year around the United Kingdom depending on region, according to recently released hospital data from 2013 through 2015.
The Staffordshire exemption also unleashed an explosion of dogfighting, to a prominence it had not had in the United Kingdom since animal fighting was first prohibited in 1835. As Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community admits, “RSPCA data shows they received an alarming 3,698 complaints concerning dog fighting between 2010 and 2014.”
What might have been expected
Under the circumstances, the entrance of the League Against Cruel Sports into campaigning against dogfighting might be expected to emphasize the urgent need to eliminate the Staffordshire exemption from the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
Further, the League Against Cruel Sports might be expected to work to extend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to prohibit any dog of the physical conformation of pit bulls and closely related fighting dogs, regardless of whatever name and alleged pedigree a breeder, seller, or animal charity touting adoptions might assign to it.
Dogfighting can exist, after all, only if the people promoting it have continuous access to inexpensively abundant and easily disposable dogs who have the physical and mental adaptations inclining them to fight, in distinct contrast to the conflict-avoiding behavior of almost all other dogs.
Yet, in stark contrast to what one might logically expect from any organization genuinely opposed to dogfighting, with deep knowledge of what it involves and requires, the League Against Cruel Sports report Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community is in disappointing truth just another of many grossly ill-informed and spectacularly illogical screeds calling for repeal of the breed-specific provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, so that pit bulls may continue to proliferate––along with dogfighting––unimpeded.
Most of what Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community actually says about dogfighting, and says over and over with conspicuous redundancy, is that it knows next to nothing. The report repeats several times numerous anecdotes which are said to have come from the League Against Cruel Sports’ own investigation, but might as easily have been extracted from online editions of the Daily Mail, quotes a variety of sociological speculation, and returns by the end of almost every page to attacking the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 for alleged failings which exist because of the 1997 exemption of Staffordshires. The exemption, however, is never mentioned.
Hunting Act 2004
Founded in present incarnation in 1924, with much older antecedents, the 92-year-old League Against Cruel Sports was among the organizations instrumental in winning passage of the Hunting Act 2004, which nominally banned fox hunting with dogs and hare coursing.
Like the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Hunting Act 2004 was unfortunately flawed––perhaps fatally––by the inclusion of many exemptions which have allowed participation in organized fox hunts to continue.
According to the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, more than 80% of the registered fox hunting clubs in Britain now have as many or more members than when the Hunting Act 2004 took effect.
83% public support
Other forms of hunting with dogs, including traditional “lamping” and “lurching,” and “yobs” setting pit bulls on wildlife, were already illegal and not statistically tracked by any recognized coordinating body. These pursuits continue, apparently as widely and often practiced as ever, with video evidence frequently surfacing via social media.
But according to public opinion polls commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports itself, public opposition to repealing the Hunting Act 2004 rose from 72% in 2008 to 83% in 2015.
Seeking new mission
League Against Cruel Sports president Eduardo Gonçalves appears to believe this warrants the League seeking a new mission, rather than remaining focused on defense and reinforcement of the Hunting Act 2004.
“The League will now be stepping up its ongoing investigation into dog fighting in Britain,” Gonçalves pledged in introducing Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community.
“With the further roll out of Project Bloodline,” Gonçalves blustered on, “it is likely that the League will become the go-to organization for dog fighting issues,” never mind that the Royal SPCA has a 180-year head start.
Claims unique investigative expertise
“The League is able to gather information from across the UK through its confidential reporting line, Animal Crimewatch,” Gonçalves recited. “The League has the capability to analyze information gathered, and to develop a structured engagement plan involving both partner agencies and local communities.
“The League is believed to be one of the only non-governmental organizations that can bring in undercover-type operatives,” Gonçalves asserted, without saying who besides himself believes this.
The League Against Cruel Sports has historically focused on influencing public opinion, leaving undercover work, including video documentation of alleged Hunting Act 2004 violations, to the much more militant Hunt Saboteurs Association and spinoffs.
Founded in 1964, the Hunt Saboteurs Association has attracted a cadre of working class supporters who have demonstrated themselves capable from the beginning of infiltrating even the roughest company and bringing back the evidence, whilst the relatively gentile League Against Cruel Sports by reputation might have difficulty infiltrating a cocktail lounge men’s room.
The League Against Cruel Sports is the often well-meaning but naive charity, it is worth remembering, which as recently as 2006 nearly bankrupted itself with a fundraising campaign that allowed hunt supporters to send it tons of bricks, refuse, and even animal carcasses, postage to be paid by the League.
The League still exists because the Royal Mail agreed to transfer the crippling expense of the £500,000 fiasco to British taxpayers and other mail customers.
Notes problem, but not the source
Found the authors of Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community, “Prohibited breeds continue to be bred…to supply the dog fighting and status dogs market. Prohibited breeds are also crossbred with other breeds to make them more suitable for dog fighting.
The clear cause of this is the exemption of “Staffordshire” pit bulls, but the League Against Cruel Sports skips lightly over that to note that, “Identification of dogs deemed to be ‘dangerous’, under the Dangerous Dogs Act, is also problematic – during 2014/15, just 5% of dogs seized by 13 police forces in relation to responsible dog ownership were prohibited types. Of 623 ‘banned’ dogs seized in the same period, almost a quarter were later found not to be on the prohibited list.:
Again, the clear cause for this failure of enforcement is the exemption of “Staffordshires.” Because a “Staffordshire” is a pit bull, and the converse, practically any pit bull can be claimed to be a “Staffordshire,” while few police departments have the fortitude to try to enforce a law against purported contraband that includes an exemption so broad that most of what is claimed to be contraband can be possessed––and distributed.
League itself experienced misrepresentation
Indeed, the League Against Cruel Sports mentions among anecdotes said to come from its own investigations, “A puppy bought as a Staffordshire bull terrier turned out to be pit bull. The dog was eventually euthanized having spent seven months in kennels and lived in five different homes…The Presa Canario breed of dog is increasingly popular in Luton and is being crossbred with other breeds.”
Not surprisingly, under the circumstance that the Staffordshire exemption prevents law enforcement agencies from pre-emptively confiscating the instruments of the crime of dogfighting, “enforcement of laws that prohibit dog fighting has proven difficult,” the League Against Sports admits, “not least because of burdensome investigatory costs and evidentiary problems.”
Avoids recommending effective measures
The simple, obvious solution is to stop institutionalizing a purported difference between “American pit bulls” and other pit bulls, which does not actually exist as regards their ability and propensity to fight and kill. Instead, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be restored to original form, with broadened definitions to ensure that possession of any dog of fighting lineage is prohibited.
But the League Against Cruel Sports shies entirely from making any recommendation which might effectively interdict dogfighting before a dogfight actually occurs.
Dogfighting should not be “animal fighting”?!
Instead, like U.S. pit bull advocates, the League Against Cruel Sports emphasizes punishing the relatively few dogfighters who are caught in the act of actually fighting dogs, within the context that it also recommends delisting dogfighting as an offense under the same heading as cockfighting and bullfighting.
“Dogfighting should be recorded as a specific offence separate to animal fighting,” says Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community, “in order to enable the scale of the problem to be more accurately assessed.
“Legislation and penalties for offenders must be clarified and strengthened to ensure those found guilty are punished appropriately. The League would like to see a minimum tariff of three years for convicted dog fighters,” compared to the present maximum of 51 weeks, of which a sentence of about six months is said to be average.
Keep records of convicted offenders
“Sentencing should reflect the spectrum of offending in relation to dog fighting (from street level dog fighting to organized crime),” the League Against Cruel Sports continues. “Rehabilitation programs should be offered as part of the sentencing mix.
“Details of individuals banned from keeping dogs should be held on a national register by statutory agencies… Tackling dog fighting should be seen in the context of dog fighting being a gateway crime. Dealing with dog fighting can lead to other crimes such as drugs and gun crime being solved.”
Echoes pit bull advocates
The League Against Cruel Sports recommendations echo and footnote pit bull advocacy sources including Karen Delise, who for nearly 30 years has vehemently denied the preponderance of pit bulls among dogs who kill and disfigure people; sociologist Simon Harding (see Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapon Dogs, by Simon Harding); and the Animals & Society Institute, which in 2009 awarded a “Human-Animal Studies Fellowship” to an individual with multiple associations with dogfighters and dogfighting.
In addition, the League Against Cruel Sports “suggests a greater recognition and support of programs developed by our partners at Dogs Trust, Blue Cross [not to be confused with either the Blue Cross of India or the Blue Cross of Hyderabad] and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home,” all of which helped to push the Staffordshire exemption to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 into effect, none of which have any verifiable record of preventing dogfighting, while Dogs Trust in particular vigorously promotes adoptions of “Staffordshires.”
Finally, the League Against Cruel Sports asserts that “In the U.S., certain community-led programs have already been proven to be effective,” citing three pit bull advocacy organizations in cities in which there is no evidence that dogfighting is at all reduced.
Rising human deaths & injuries
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 “has had no apparent effect on either dog fighting or the recorded occurrence rate of injuries from dog bites,” the League Against Cruel Sports alleges, again without acknowledging the corrosive effect of the Staffordshire exemption.
“This is illustrated,” says Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community, “by data provided by the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which shows a 76% rise in hospital admissions.” This includes a rise of “almost a third compared with five years ago” in the area in which the League Against Cruel Sports claims to have done a pilot investigation.
Who wants to legalize dogfighting?
Probably the most meaningful statistic that the League Against Cruel Sports cites in Bloodline: Tackling Dog Fighting in the Community is that “An IPSOS Mori poll from December 2015 showed that 98% of the 2,036 respondents stated that they want dogfighting to remain illegal.”
Unasked is, who might wish to legalize dogfighting?
The only people with an evident interest in legalizing dogfighting would appear to be those who are already involved in it, or would like to become involved in it. This 2% of the British population almost certainly significantly overlaps the less than 5% who own pit bulls, including Staffordshires.
This suggests that up to 40% of pit bull owners might like to fight their dogs legally, if they could.
What is & isn’t realistic
Against that evidence, the League Against Cruel Sports concludes that “Total elimination of the problem is unlikely to be realistic due to dogfighting being embedded in the criminal fraternity. However, measures of effectiveness could include…A decrease in the number of dog bites or injuries potentially connected to fighting dogs,” and “Better integration and acceptance in the community of dogs typically considered as ‘status dogs,’ namely pit bulls, including Staffordshires, and their closest mixes.”
Would anyone of good sense conclude that a measure of the effectiveness of prohibition of drug abuse would include “Better integration and acceptance in the community of cocaine, heroin, and methadrine?”
Total elimination of dogfighting, ANIMALS 24-7 suggests, is unlikely to be realistic in the near future not “due to dogfighting being embedded in the criminal fraternity,” but rather because much of the humane community has become the public relations and legal defense arms of the dogfighting industry.