Jeremiah Kirkwood, 43, and his two sons Christopher, 23, and Wayne, 20, from Island Street, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a Belfast, Northern Ireland, court to causing “unnecessary suffering” to four pit bull-mix puppies only days old and keeping four dogs for fighting. The adult dogs had extensive scarring from prior injuries.
Officials also found equipment which the father and sons admitted to keeping for use in animal fights and training, including a trap they used to catch pet cats and other animals to use to bait the dogs. The dogs were Bull Lurchers, described as a mix of greyhound and pit bull.
All three men originally faced a total of 15 charges, but after pleading guilty to three charges each, the remaining counts were dropped.
A fourth man, 19-year-old Jamie Edward Morrow from McAllister Court in east Belfast, admitted keeping or training a Staffordshire Bull Terrier/Whippet-mix for fighting, according to the BBC.
Detective Inspector Peter Mullan said the police investigation actually began two years ago, when video footage of extreme cruelty and training for dog fighting was recovered from a mobile phone.
One clip showed a docile cat, which appeared to be a pet, in a trap. The trap was then opened and four dogs were released to drag the cat out and tear it to pieces on the film. (Bull Lurchers run very fast and it would be almost impossible for a traumatized animal to escape even in an open area.)
In another clip, a terrified cat was shaken out off a tree limb where it had climbed for safety and as soon as it hit the ground two dogs grabbed it and brutally ripped it apart.
The same dogs were also released to kill a badger, causing an SPCA official to believe the dogs might also be used for badger-baiting.
The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) said the savagery inflicted on innocent animals by the Kirkwoods and Morrow was "wickedness at its worst".
Stephen Philpott, who heads the humane society, said it was "one of the vilest examples of premeditated abuse" the charity had come across in years. He added that the extreme cruelty inflicted on both the victims and the animals owned by the defendants should result not only in prison time but also a lifetime ban on any of them owning or keeping any animal.
After the guilty pleas were entered at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Donna McColgan ordered pre-sentencing reports on all four men. She agreed to allow them to stay free on bail but said "this is no indication of the likely outcome of the case.” All four will appear before the same court on February 21.
Member of Parliament Naomi Long said she was disgusted to learn of the case: “This kind of vile brutality towards animals should have no place in a decent society,” she said.
Ms Long added: “I am pleased this barbaric practice has been stopped in this case and my thoughts are with not only the animals tortured and killed and their owners, but also with the dogs used in these attacks, as they too have been horrifically abused and brutalized."
After the hearing for the four men, Catherine Kirkwood, 43, the wife of Jeremiah and mother of Wayne and Christopher, was brought in to face the same charges, but the prosecutor told the judge and jury that no evidence would be introduced against her.
Judge McColgan directed the jury to find Catherine Kirkwood not guilty of all the charges against her, which they did. The judge then told her she was free to go.
Detective Inspector Mullan thanked all the agencies involved in bringing the case to prosecution and said people should contact the police immediately if they have suspicions about any dog fighting or other animal cruelty.