Answer to a question from a reader

My neighbour is involved in dog fighting. Is dog fighting legal, and what can I do if it isn't?

The short answer

Dog fighting is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. You can report it to the SPCA, but be prepared to testify.

The whole question

I have recently learnt that my neighbour is involved in dog fighting.  He is breeding a lot of dogs in his backyard (often chained and without water) and hosting weekly fight nights where a lot of people come to his house, and there is lots of noise, growling and barking and lots of dogs crying afterwards.  I have heard dogs cry a lot afterwards and saw him throwing a dog's body into the municipal dustbin this morning.

My questions:

1.) Is one allowed to chain a dog all day and night?

2.) What can I do when I see a dog without shelter or water?

3.) Is dog fighting legal, and what can I do if it isn't?

The long answer

Thank you for your email reporting the horrendous conditions of the dogs kept by your neighbour.

The law governing the treatment of animals in South Africa is the Animal Protection Act of 1962, which contains a detailed list of prohibited acts of cruelty including causing unnecessary suffering due to confinement, chaining or tethering, abandonment, unnecessarily denying food or water, keeping in a dirty or parasitic condition, or failing to provide veterinary assistance. There is also a general provision prohibiting wanton, unreasonable, or negligible commission or omission of acts resulting in unnecessary suffering. 

To answer your first question, the SPCA warns that anything that confines and halts the movement of a dog is considered an offence under the Act. The SPCA says the chaining of animals can only occur temporarily with a running chain that is a minimum of five metres in length linked to a light chain attached to the dog’s collar with a minimum length of two metres.

Question 2: The Act also specifies that “making adequate provision for suitable food, potable water and rest” for the animal is a minimum requirement for ownership of an animal. What you can do is report the situation to your local SPCA. The SPCA has to give three written warnings to an abusive owner, after which it can approach a magistrate for an order instructing that the animal be removed. If the SPCA inspector believes the animal’s life is in danger, it can be removed without any warning.

Question 3: Dog fighting has been illegal in South Africa since 1945, but clearly it is still very much going on and is a highly syndicated and organised crime. (As a matter of interest, South Africa was given a D out of a possible A, B, C, D, E, F and G by the World Animal Protection Index in 2014).

You need to report your suspicions of dog fighting urgently to your local SPCA by telephone. They specifically ask that you do not report by email as emails may not be picked up quickly, but by law the SPCA must have a 24-hour emergency telephone answering and response service. For record purposes, you will be asked to give your name, address and contact number, but your identity is kept strictly confidential. You will need to tell them in detail what you have witnessed and the exact location. Later, they will give you feedback and perhaps ask for additional details.

Once a matter is investigated, the docket is compiled, including affidavits by witnesses and the Inspector and any other supporting evidence such as photographs and post-mortem reports, and specific charges will be listed. Criminal charges will then be laid at the police station and the SPCA will go on to liaise with the Public Prosecutor and the matter brought to court.

The SPCA notes that cases are won and lost on evidence, and that far too many matters are investigated but the case lost because the witness “ doesn’t want to get involved” by submitting an affidavit or being prepared to testify in court, even though the witness felt sufficiently enraged to report it in the first place. Fines of up to R60,000 can be imposed and sentences of up to three years. Abusers can also be forbidden to own an animal again.

The SPCA also appeals to people not to publish complaints about dog fighting on social media like Facebook because those involved often monitor such sites and will tip off others and change times and locations of fights.

Here are the SPCA’s local contact details:

Phone: 021 700 4140

After hours emergencies: 083 326 1604

Answered on March 14, 2019, 4:58 p.m.

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