World Animal Day - a special opportunity for everyone who cares about animals
It's time to lift the lid on dog fighting - worldwide
April is a fabulous month to visit Greece.
The warmth of the spring sun brings out the amazing smells of the thyme and oregano.
In April 2015, I made a first visit to Greece to present to the European Air and Seaport Police Commanders about how animal abuse was an important matter for society.
Five years later, Greece announced the toughest jail sentences in Europe for felony animal abuse at 10 years.
During those five years, I had many police meetings and discussions with prosecutors but worked closely with animal groups across the 2000 islands that make up this wonderful country.
I also worked closely with a leading investigative journalist to expose the horror that is dog fighting.
The report in Vice.Gr was released in 2018.
Dog fighting is animal abuse closely linked to serious organised crime and after the article hit the Greek news, I briefed the Head of the Organised Crime Police in Athens about those operating in his city.
Above: police guidance for dealing with animal cases
In July 2020, a gang who had been running a ‘protection racket’ in the port of Piraeus, south of the capital were ‘taken out’ by the police.
Guns, ammunition, stolen property, drugs and cash were recovered as well as five fighting dogs that were taken into safe custody.
As a result, 25 people were indicted, including police officers.
The gang had been terrorising the port area and had been reinforcing those demands with violence, including causing explosions.
Above image: Hellenic Police
The cross over from dog fighting to other crime isn’t unusual though.
The dog fighting investigation that I ran for the BBC News saw dogs being shipped around the world to be bred and fought for criminals' pleasure and greed.
Some of these fights last up to four hours and cause horrific injuries - and very often death.
It is likely around a million dogs are caught up worldwide.
In the UK, dog fighting continues - 200 years after being made illegal.
England’s first fighting ‘pit’ was just a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and, when dogs were in short supply, the gentry used to pitch other animals such as monkeys for bets as to who would win.
Left: The Westminster-Pit - A Turn-up between a dog and 'Jacco Macacco', the Fighting Monkey, by Henry Thomas Alken (circa 1822)
In many aspects, we haven’t progressed. Dog fighting is a complex subject that impacts on most communities in most countries.
I have had the opportunity to talk on TV in Ukraine about ‘shepherd dog fighting’, where animal fighters use an excuse of training dogs to fight wolves as justification for dogs to be fought for entertainment.
National Dog Fighting Awareness Day on April 8 is a good opportunity to remember all those caught up by it and ask all Governments to do more.
I would suggest that police forces that lift the lid on it, such as we did in Greece, may lead to other serious crimes being solved.
Mark Randell - April 6, 2021