DUBAI // Criminal gangs are smuggling banned dog breeds from Oman for use in illegal fights, animal-welfare workers claim.
An emaciated pitbull, found in Jumeirah this week, was believed to have been used in a dog fight. It did not survive.
Pitbulls are among the breeds of dogs the UAE has banned.
Dogs are either used against one another, with tens of thousands of dirhams riding on the outcome, or used as bait dogs, in which weaker canines are used to train fighting dogs and are often killed in the process.
Social media has helped to open up the market for illegal breeders, who advertise their strongest dogs online, according to Sarah Al Zaki from the Dubai Animal Welfare Society. She has been rescuing unwanted dogs, usually pitbulls.
“Dog fighting does go on a lot here and we are seeing more cases of neglect,” she said. “But people do not hear about them. It’s illegal, so it is very much underground.
“There are Facebook pages with photos and you can tell it is not a usual kennel, with dogs chained to the ground.
“Most dog fights occur in the Northern Emirates, as people will go over the border into Oman [for dog fights] where it is more accepted.”
Fighting dogs are advertised on Instagram as having a “hot bloodline”. It means their aggression is very easily triggered, often because they are regularly abused. When the dogs are no longer useful or have become too damaged to fight, they are often tied up and left to die or released as strays, which is how some were rescued.
Animal-welfare workers say that the best fighting dogs sell for as much as Dh20,000, with prize fighters with the most victories commanding the highest fees. The illegal activity is also helping to fuel a trade in illegal gambling.
“The people that run these operations are dangerous people,” said Ms Al Zaki. ”If they can do this to animals then they are not in the right frame of mind.
“We rescued one dog who was destined for fighting when he was just 40 days old. These dogs are viewed as money for owners and will be used in fights until they become useless.”
The fights are not taking place in fixed locations but in remote areas. The participants are not told about the venue until the last minute, usually just 10 minutes before the fight, to escape the attention of authorities.
Dubai Municipality says there are import bans on seven types of dogs, with six more to be added to the list this year.
The dogs that are banned include all types of pitbulls, wolf-dog hybrids, American Staffordshire terriers, Japanese tosa, Brazilian and Argentinian mastiffs, and crossbreeds of any of the six kinds of dogs.
Kirstie Lawton, from People for Protection of Animals UAE, is raising awareness about animal welfare and encouraging the use of global best practices for the care of dogs.
“Dogs who have been abused or used as bait and are covered in scars are mentally and physically damaged and traumatised. There are so many cases,” she said.
Pitbulls are unfairly considered dangerous because of unscrupulous owners who mistreat or neglect the animals, according to her.
They are not naturally aggressive and animal experts consider the breed to be loving and loyal, making perfect family pets in the right hands.
Ms Lawton said even dogs that were rescued from horrific abuse could be rehabilitated.
“It is too late for some animals we find, but generally there are some excellent rehabilitation facilities here and some good trainers,” she said.
“We need to change the attitude that animals should be used for entertainment.”
The public can call 800 900 or contact Dubai Municipality to report their suspicion of dog-fighting activities. A complaint will usually be followed up within three days.