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No, abused dog in photo not ‘bait’ to train fighting dogs

Warning: This report links to potentially upsetting photos.

A graphic shared on Facebook in South Africa shows a dog with duct tape wrapped around its muzzle and paws.

“This is what a bait dog looks like,” the text reads. “Their mouths are taped shut and legs tied together. Then they are set upon... It's shitty isn't it? If they die, they die... If they survive.. They'll be kept for the next ‘training session’.”

It asks people to “stop selling dogs on Gumtree” – a South African classified ads website – and “social advertising sites”. “Make people aware of the dangers of selling pets off cheap or as free to good home,” it adds

The graphic was posted with a long comment that begins: “The dogfighting industry is a reality and unfortunately it is big and incredibly cruel.”

But does it show a “bait dog” used in illegal dog fighting?

Animal cruelty case from 2013

A reverse image search led us to a number of news reports from 2013. A man in the US state of Pennsylvania had duct-taped the muzzle and limbs of the dog in the photo and left her in a chicken coop without food or water.

The man was reportedly charged with animal cruelty, given a $500 fine and sentenced to up to 12 months in prison.

There is no indication that the animal was a bait dog, or used in dog fighting.

Dog fighting has gained popularity in South Africa

South Africa’s National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) says dog fighting is “a contest in which two dogs, trained to fight, are placed in a small arena to fight each other for the spectators’ entertainment and gambling purposes”.

There are media reports that the illegal activity has gained popularity in South Africa. In 2019, TimesLive reported that seven people were sent to prison for running illegal dog fights near Pretoria. Fourteen pit bulls, kept chained in poor conditions, were rescued.

Bait dogs mostly myth

Wendy Willson, manager of the NSPCA’s special investigations unit that works to combat dog fighting, told Africa Check that it was largely a myth that “bait dogs” were used to train fighting dogs.

She said pit bulls were the breed used most often in fighting because of their aggression and stamina.

“Pit bulls have been bred for generations to be dog aggressive. They don’t need to be taught to be dog aggressive,” she said. 

“If trainers want to manipulate or fine tune a dog’s fighting, they don’t use a Yorkshire terrier. They will use another pit bull and that pit bull is usually an accomplished campaign dog that knows all the tricks, knows the defences, knows how to attack – all the little tricks that you need in the pit to succeed.”

In 2013, South African news site IOL reported that someone had filmed a chained dog with its muzzle taped shut being attacked by a pit bull. The cellphone footage led to the arrest of eight suspected dog fighters. It was believed that the pit bull was being trained for a fight. 

The video was investigated by the NSPCA. Willson said the dog in the video was a stray being used because the older training dog was injured. 

There have been instances of low-level dog trainers setting pit bulls on other dogs, but these were stray dogs that the trainers either lured or that had wandered into yards. Willson told us these bait dogs were often used to show off the prowess of the trainer’s pit bull rather than to train the dog. 

“The risk of stealing someone’s dog from their property just for a pit bull to kill doesn’t make sense at all,” she said. 

Dogs can be stolen by dog fighters

The graphic doesn’t show a “bait dog”, which the NSPCA says is mostly a myth.

But the NSPCA does warn dog owners to be vigilant as it has noted a surge in dog fighting over the past 15 years. 

While all dog breeds are targeted for resale and breeding, pit bulls in particular are often stolen to be trained as fighters. Dog owners are encouraged to sterilise their dogs, not leave them unattended, and to hire a pet sitter or send dogs to a kennel while on holiday. – Naledi Mashishi


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