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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK
GAA star 'dog fight ringleader'
Gerard Cavlan
Gerard Cavlan is a senior figure in a dog fighting operation
A Tyrone GAA star is a major figure in the illegal world of dog fighting, a BBC Spotlight investigation has found.

Gerard Cavlan, an all-Ireland medal winner, is a senior figure in a dog fighting operation known as The Bulldog Sanctuary Kennels.

The 17-month investigation, led by reporter Mandy McAuley, uncovered 15 illegal dog fighting gangs in NI.

Earlier this year, Cavlan, from Dungannon, was convicted of possessing a dangerous dog and fined 650.

In April, Dungannon Magistrates Court was told that Cavlan had merely collected the dog from kennels for a Dublin man and was not involved in any other illegal activities.

However, with the aid of a trained undercover operative and secret filming, the Spotlight team discovered that this was not true.

During secret filming, after being raided by the USPCA, Cavlan admitted to Spotlight that he still had "a dozen or 15 dogs".

He also talked about the strength and skill of a pit bull terrier in a fight.

"Sure he had him in the chest, and he shook him and he shook him for 25 minutes... if he hadn't got you killed in half an hour... he was in trouble, you know. A real hard mouthed dog," he said.

You could hear the skin and flesh tearing as every wound was inflicted

Five of the 15 gangs found to be operating in Northern Ireland are based in Belfast and some of these groups have links to international dog fighting organisations.

One of the gangs, the Tandragee based Farmers Boys, was infiltrated by Spotlight.

The Farmers Boys are involved in dog fighting matches both in Northern Ireland and internationally.

After being taken into the inner circle of group, Spotlight's undercover operator was permitted access to a dog fight in Tandragee.

He said the scenes he saw during a fight were horrific.

"The most shocking thing was seeing the dogs being ripped apart and being covered in puncture wounds with gristle coming out of it and bites down to the bone where you could see the white of the bone underneath," he said.

"You could hear the skin and flesh tearing as every wound was inflicted."

Undercover filming of Illegal dog fight
The Spotlight team filmed dog fights using undercover cameras

The investigation also led the Spotlight team to Finland where it uncovered an international dog fighting ring and discovered how illegal pit bulls are transported from Europe into Northern Ireland.

It also uncovered how the dogs were trained and are forced into practice fights or "rolls" from as young as 10-months-old.

While in Finland, the Spotlight team won the trust of leading pit bull breeder Robert Gonzales who explained how easily pit bulls could be exported into Northern Ireland.

When asked if he registered a dog being exported out of the country as a pit bull on its animal passport, Gonzales explained that he tricked customs officials by marking it as a mixed breed.

"I've imported a lot of dogs so I know how to fool, fool the customs... all you need is a computer and a printer," he said.

The USPCA will be following up on Spotlight's findings.




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