Pit Bull Union of South Africa executives convicted on related charges
CAPE TOWN, South Africa––Faith Hendricks, 18 months old, was on September 1, 2016 killed in her parents’ yard by the family pit bull in Mount Pleasant, South Africa, a suburb of Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape.
Marchen Hoffman, age 6, was killed six days earlier at a swimming hole in Stellenbosch, a suburb of Cape Town, by two dogs believed to have been pit bulls who jumped over a neighbor’s fence.
Three children killed in three weeks
The Hendricks and Hoffman deaths followed the August 17, 2016 dog attack death of Peter Frans, age 4, at Oudtshorn on the Western Cape.
The three fatal dog attacks in three weeks, all on small children, highlighted that South Africa appears to now have the highest rate of dog attack deaths in the world relative to population, nearly twice the rate of the U.S., the distant runner-up.
Hendricks was the ninth reported dog attack death in South Africa in as many months, a rate equivalent to 72 human deaths in a year in the U.S.
More dog attack fatalities in 2016 than in 2006-2015 combined
Just 10 dog attack deaths had been reported in South Africa during the previous 10 years.
The second of those deaths, that of seven-year-old Austin Pieters, mauled by three pit bulls belonging to a Northern Cape district police officer in June 2005, prompted then-Animal Welfare Society of South Africa chair June Woodman to break from the past position of the 60-year-old society in calling for a ban on breeding or keeping pit bulls.
“I’m not saying the dogs are to blame, because they often fall into the wrong hands and are encouraged to be vicious, but something needs to be done,” Woodman told Helen Bamford of the Cape Argus.
But nothing was done.
By comparison, the deaths of Hendricks, Hoffman, and Frans brought from the South African humane community only rote defenses of pit bulls and other dogs bred to be dangerous.
Two-thirds of attacks are by pit bulls
Of 93 documented dog attack deaths and disfigurements occurring since 2004 in South Africa and the much smaller bordering nations of Swaziland (wholly surrounded by South Africa), Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, 64 were inflicted by pit bulls.
Fourteen fatal or disfiguring attacks were by dogs of unknown breed, five by Rottweilers, and four by German shepherds.
Just four were by dangerous dogs of indigenous breed: three by boerboels, one by a Rhodesian ridgeback.
The victims included 18 children and 35 adults.
But the documented totals are almost certainly low because of spotty police and media presence in rural areas, and because of the low priority that animal care and control issues tend to receive in nations––especially South Africa––struggling to cope with astronomical rates of crime against humans.
At that, South Africa has made noteworthy progress against crime, reported Los Angeles Times contract reporter Robyn Dixon recently from Johannesburg.
“South Africa’s homicide rate was 31.9 per 100,000 population in 2013-14,” Dixon wrote, down by more than half from 66.9 in 1994. “But South Africa’s rate is nearly 10 times that of the U.S.,” Dixon pointed out, “whose rate in turn is more than 10 times higher than the safest countries, such as Iceland and Japan.
“Last year,” Dixon continued, “36,225 people were jailed [in South Africa] for violent crimes against women, and 695 life sentences were handed down by South African courts for heinous crimes against women.
“A million people were arrested [in South Africa] for serious crimes in 2014-15, in a country of prison capacity of about 160,000, according to government statistics. Car hijackings rose 14.2%, truck hijackings rose 29% and aggravated robberies involving violence against people rose 8.5%.”
Fear of crime
Dangerous dogs, especially pit bulls, have proliferated in part because fear of crime has encouraged South Africans to ubiquitously keep fearsome watchdogs.
In affluent and middle class neighborhoods, whether majority black, Afrikaner, or of British descent, big dogs typically patrol yards behind high fences––albeit at times not high enough.
In the teeming shantytowns that still surround South African cities, the dogs are usually chained just inches from passers-by in the alleys, a jostling misstep or slip in mud from an attack.
But the guard dogs may be involved in as much violent crime as they help to prevent.
“Dog fighting is on the increase and is happening across Cape Town, from Constantia to the Cape Flats,” warned Raphael Wolf of the Cape Times in Cape Town in April 2016.
“There has been an escalation and it has grown in popularity (as a blood sport),” Cape Town SPCA chief executive Allan Perrins told Wolf.
“While there had always been an assumption that most of the pit bull fighting was on the Cape Flats,” Wolf wrote, “Perrins said their experience was showing something different.”
Explained Perrins, “We had some dealings and cases where at the end of the day this activity was very prevalent in white Afrikaner communities.”
Acquisitions up; thefts too
Lumka Golintete, primary animal caretaker for Community Led Animal Welfare, a petkeeping assistance program operating around Soweto in Gauteng province, told Nina Oosthuizen of SABC News in September 2015 that the CLAW animal hospital staff had noted a surge in pit bull acquisition and “an influx of injured dogs,” Oosthuizen reported, “with continuous rumors coming in that these dogs were being used for criminal activities.”
“Dogfighting syndicates in South Africa are enlisting children to steal dogs,” reported Roxanne Henderson and Penelope Mashego for The Times of Johannesburg in March 2015. “The dogs are then sold to neighboring countries. Mariette Hopley, manager of the National Animal Welfare Task Team, said there were at least 12 syndicates exporting dogs. Just two weeks ago, the task team stopped a shipment of 30 dogs bound for Namibia and Angola after receiving a tip-off from Interpol.”
Lamented Hopley, “The outcome of court cases needs to be much stricter.”
There have been some recent courtroom successes against dogfighting, after nearly two decades of failures to win meaningful sentences.
In July 2016, for instance, the Pretoria-based South African National SPCA celebrated that “Four men who used a stray dog as ‘bait’ to train dogs for fighting were sentenced to a total of two years’ imprisonment,” reported Kaveel Singh of News 24 in Cape Town.
Pit Bull Union of South Africa
That case followed the convictions on dogfighting-related charges of Fanie and Margaretha Catherina (Rina) Joubert, his former wife, both prominent members of the Pit Bull Union of South Africa.
Fanie Joubert served as Pit Bull Union of South Africa technical chair; Rina Joubert as treasurer.
Rina Joubert in February 2016 plea-bargained a fine of 30,000 rand, worth about $2,000 U.S., or a 15-month prison sentence from the Vanderbijlpark Magistrates Court for allegedly severely neglecting 23 suspected fighting dogs, impounded by the National SPCA in March 2014.
“20,000 rand of the fine or 10 months of the prison term were suspended for five years on condition that Ms. Joubert does not obstruct the NSPCA or contravene any section of the Animals Protection Act during that period,” said a National SPCA media statement.
Fanie Joubert was convicted of organizing dog fights in Plettenberg Bay in 2011 and of neglect of alleged fighting dogs in Roodespoort in 2012.
But the cases demonstrated the difficulties of bringing dogfighters to justice in South Africa. The 2011 case reportedly originated when police found two pit bulls fighting in a cage in the living room of a Ladywood farmhouse. Eight pit bulls in all were impounded and eventually euthanized.
Of the 10 men found at the scene, only four were eventually charged with violating the South African Animal Protection Act. The case did not come to trial until May 2013. Two key witnesses were reportedly not notified to appear in court until they were sent text messages on the day of the trial. This appeared to be a factor in the defendants receiving relatively light sentences.
13 suspects walked
At that, the outcome was less frustrating than that of a November 2013 case before the Tsakane Magistrates Court, in which 13 men arrested in connection with dogfighting in the East Rand of Johannesburg were granted bail with a warning. Thirteen dogs seized by the National SPCA “had to be euthanized by a veterinarian due to the seriousness and extent of their injuries and suffering,” the National SPCA said. “Only one dog was able to be saved.”
Said National SPCA executive director Marcelle Meredith, “We have questioned the improper handling of the case from the beginning. Five suspects were released on the same night of their arrest. In addition, evidence was returned to these suspects on that evening.”
Encouraged by the recent improvement in case outcomes, the National SPCA on August 27, 2016 impounded nine severely injured pit bulls and arrested 10 people at the scene of a dog fight interupted in progress at Dobsonville, Soweto.