Page last updated at 04:13 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 05:13 UK

Inside the world of dog-fighting

By Amardeep Bassey
The Report, BBC Radio 4

It was the sound of dogs barking and whimpering that first attracted PC Paul Foster to the back of an old kitchen showroom in inner city Birmingham.

PC Paul Foster of West Midlands Police describes the moment he witnessed a dog-fight

As he got closer he heard voices and men cheering.

What police found in Alum Rock a mainly Pakistani inner-city suburb, was an unexpected and disturbing crime scene.

"The first thing I notice was the black pit bull terrier, little fur, covered in blood in a bad way," PC Rogers told BBC Radio 4's The Report.

Twenty-six men were eventually convicted two years ago for taking part in the largest illegal dog-fight uncovered in the UK.

The RSPCA had long regarded dog-fighting as the preserve of white working class men attending fights in the countryside.

What the fight in Alum Rock revealed was the first glimpse of organised dog fighting in the Asian community taking place in urban surroundings and tens of thousands of pounds gambled on the result.

Since then subsequent raids have revealed that dog-fighting has become a problem in some sections of the Asian community.

Increasing problem

Ian Briggs, chief inspector of the RSPCA's Special Operations Unit said dog-fighting is up 400% in the past three years in the UK.

"Out of all the work we do 98% is Asian".

Mr Briggs said the organisation believes there is a dog fight nearly every week nationally from a small fight in the park to the bigger organised events such as that uncovered at Alum Rock.

"Information about one fight we uncover leads to another but certainly we are scratching the surface."

What has also surprised RSPCA officials is the attention to detail that accompanies the fights.

They're looking for a more exotic dog, more jaw pressure, one whose got more stamina, the drive just to kill, that's what they are looking for, them characteristics people will pay money for
Youth worker, Handsworth

During raids in the West Midlands, RSPCA officers have uncovered detailed training logs which would not be out of place in a professional athlete's routine.

One log listed a nine-week plan including putting the dog on a treadmill for 30 minutes, three times a day and listing what drugs should be administered and the diet regime.

A youth worker from Handsworth said the goal is to create a perfect specimen.

"They're looking for a more exotic dog, more jaw pressure, one which has got more stamina, the drive just to kill, that's what they are looking for, them characteristics people will pay money for. That's where the money's at," he said.

Yet it would be wrong to think this is a covert world.

Foreign fights

Young men openly parade their illegal pit bull terriers saying how police cannot tell the difference - while the police with stretched resources can only play a limited role in tackling the problem.

Meanwhile there is evidence that young British Asians are having an impact on dog fighting back in Pakistan.

Basharat Najiba, a youth worker in Birmingham, said that a sizeable number of spectators make the trip from the UK with some even owning the fighting dogs and paying money to locals to look after them.

He said: "I think British Asians are big players because of the financial attachments that they can bring from here."

Cruelty threshold

Dog fighting is part of life in rural Punjab and Kashmir and there are fears that its acceptability could be increasing among a new generation of young Asians in the UK aware of fathers, uncles and cousins attending dog fights in Pakistan.

But forensic psychologist Dr Vince Egan, of the University of Leicester, believes this creates real dangers of a tolerance of cruelty and of lowering ideas of "what is acceptable" and creating greater cruelty.

The RSPCA says it is keen on tackling this problem in the British Pakistani community but is finding it hard to penetrate the gangs.

And while the majority of the community find the fights abhorrent, there is among others, as one Asian youth worker explained, certain apathy.

"People say 'the dog wants to fight' and I don't believe that at all because it's the human being that's taking the dog to fight. They haven't got a choice about being in that ring," he said.

"It's the same like drugs - it's always going to happen. It's the same like prostitution it will always happen, it's like one of them kind of things where it's being abused to bad limits behind closed doors and people need to know about it because it does happen."

Find out more from The Report on BBC Radio 4, Thursday 30 July at 2000 BST. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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