Dog fighters are forcing children as young as 9 to imitate real dog fights, growling, barking, biting and scratching to cause as much damage as possible to their opponent, reports the Star on Jan. 12.
This horrific form of abuse first came to light early last year in Ekurhuleni--one of the eight metropolitan municipalities of South Africa.
Inspector Wendy Willson, from the special investigations unit at the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), was called to a school in Springs, South Africa, in June, the Star was informed. She said that the school principal was concerned that pupils were returning from recess with torn clothing and injuries.
Teachers then discovered that some of the pupils were wrestling dog-fight style, while other children were placing bets on who would win.
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The children said they were doing this because adults were encouraging them on weekends to take part, both in actual dog fighting and the role-play fighting.
Willson witnessed the children getting down on all fours to mimic the dog fights, going so far as to bark, growl, bite and scratch each other. “They rip into each other,” she said.
Willson viewed a video of one fight, which she said was much tamer than what was really happening because the children were asked to provide an example. According to the Examiner, she told Star reporter that the imitation of dogs is so authentic that if you close your eyes and listen, you will think you are listening to real dogs.
Equally as disturbing, the children who did not participate in the actual fight would act out the role of dog handlers and bet R2 to R10 on the fights, according to News 24. "R" stands for the Rand, a South African currency.
“The winner of the fight then gets to mate with a younger child as a reward," Willson told the Star, News 24 reports.
Willson was not sure if the mimicry moved on to actual intercourse. She said this was in imitation of the best fighting dogs who get to be stud animals and mate with female dogs.
“It’s incredibly disturbing that young children are being forced to be involved in this,” Willson said.
She added that the children had told her that in order to stop being a “female dog," you have to bring in a younger child to take your place.
Willson said the NSPCA had conducted two awareness-raising workshops at the Springs school and the local police station, involving members of the community, principals, police, the Justice Department and child protection services. While everyone had raised concern, nothing significant had been done to help the children.
A director of IRS Forensic Investigations, Glenda Paul, told the Star the matter was of grave concern, “It is bad enough that criminals are gambling on animals tearing themselves apart for their sick pleasure, but to involve children is pure evil.”
Willson said the perpetrators also involve children in the theft and training of the dogs and in the actual fights. The children were rewarded either with money or dog food for their own dogs, which were used in fights.
She observed that the older the child, the less empathetic he or she was. One child had told her: “It makes me feel like laughing. It makes me feel powerful."
Teddy Bear Clinic director Shaheda Omar said it was the first time she had ever heard of the dog-fighting role-play taking place. “I have seen cases where children violate animals and show no remorse, but never this,” Omar told the Star.
“If nothing is done, this will become a breeding ground for sociopaths,” Omar added.