Dog fighting is an addiction

Shortie is an undefeated fighting pit bull terrier – a “Grand Champion” and one of the country’s highest-ranking fighting pit bulls. Shortie, eight, is a 23kg US import who is undefeated in 12 professional fights. He is one of three grand champions known in the underground South African industry. The Cape Times spoke to a former pit bull trainer and nutritionist (who did not want to be named), who now rehabilitates the breed. He said the blood sport was a multi-million rand industry, with owners placing up to R200 000 a fight on their dogs, depending on the dog’s ranking.

“I was employed to train, condition (physically and mentally) and feed fighter dogs. The process is the same as with an athlete. You keep the dog focused (in a fighting mindset), physically fit (by the use of treadmills and weight training) and well nourished (the use of supplements which include steroids). He said it cost tens of thousands of rand to maintain the dogs. “Fighter pit bulls start their career after a few ‘friendly’ fights which is used to build up aggression, fitness and confidence. The dog is then ‘matched’ with another, similar in size, age and experience.”

A fight would take place (in a ring about 10m x 10m, called a pit) and at that point the ranking would start. “The more fights won, the higher the dog is ranked. After three successive victories, the dog becomes a champion.” After facing other champions, the winner would become a Grand Champion and then an Ace. The highest ranked dogs in the country were grand champions. There were three in the Western Cape. Once the dogs reached that status, their puppies were bred and sold to overseas fighters and breeders, who paid up to R30 000 each. “Pit bull fighting is an addiction. To ‘fighter owners’ it’s about money, street credit and title.” The core purpose of fighting was to kill the opponent. “They have so much drive during a fight that they continue with broken limbs.” He said the breeders’ main aim was boosting fighter characteristics by mixing different bloodlines. “At fights there are vets and surgeons on standby who give medication, stitch up wounds and even euthanase if they suffer severe injuries.” He said professionals, businessmen and even policemen were involved. “My job isn’t to stop the fighting. I rescue and rehabilitate the breed and educate owners because a dog is a reflection of its owner. People who don’t understand the bloodline and their characteristics will never understand the dog. “After spending over 20 years with pit bulls, I’ve realised they have the same temperament as other dogs, but they are just the extroverts.”