UK dog-fighting on the rise as youths seek status

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Dog-fighting is becoming more common in Britain as youths use the animals to assert their status on housing estates, according to the RSPCA.

Two dogs fight during the 14th Annual Dogs Fair in Archidona, Spain, May 28, 2006. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

More than 350 cases were reported to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2007, compared with 137 the year before. In 2004, the figure was just 24.

Nearly a third referred specifically to youths or “hoodies” training their dogs to fight in the street or park.

“The ownership of “status symbol” dogs by teenagers on inner-city estates -- low income neighborhoods that usually feature state housing schemes -- which are used for anti-social behavior or dog-fighting, is rising at an alarming rate,” the RSPCA said.

It added the use of dogs as weapons or as status symbols had become a “real problem”.

Youths were using the dogs to replace knives or guns to defend their territory.

“Our concern is that talk of dog-fighting promotes images of ‘dangerous’ or ‘devil’ dogs, when in the vast majority of cases, it is the owner who is causing the problem, not the dog,” said the RSPCA’s Tim Wass.

“All types of dog can be trained to be aggressive, just as all types of dog can be loving family pets.”

The organization is holding a conference on Tuesday, involving police chiefs and government ministers, to discuss the issue.

The Metropolitan Police has seen a massive increase in the number of dogs seized in London under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Nearly 500 were seized between May 2007 and April 2008 compared with 173 the year before. Between 2003 and 2006, the annual average was 38.

About 80 percent of the dogs seized have been pit bull-types, with the remainder being dogs that were dangerously out of control.

Dog fighting was banned in Britain in 1835, but cases have been reported intermittently.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Paul Casciato