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Protection groups warn of rising popularity of dogfighting

By Costas Onishenko

Some 200 abused pitbulls picked up in various areas around Attica in the past few years that are believed to have been used in illegal dogfights have found shelter with the Pitbull Rescue group. Among the areas where the group found injured and abandoned dogs were Keratea, Lavrio, Megara, Anavyssos, Sounio and Aspropyrgos, raising suspicions that dogfights are being organized in the vicinity.

Animal rights groups suggest that dogfights are also being held in wooded areas in and around Athens, though no arrests have been made to back up their suspicions, while the cases that do make it to court are few and far between, despite overwhelming evidence that this illegal blood sport and betting game is gaining popularity.

Earlier this month police in Katerini, northern Greece, managed to arrest 17 people during a raid on a stable where a dogfight was taking place. Of the people arrested, 13 were found guilty and given short jail sentences and ordered to pay fines. Police conducted the raid following a tip-off from an anonymous caller who provided officers with details of the dogfight. Following the call, the local police chief put together a team of 10 officers and raided the stable, where they found at least 50 spectators, who ran off into the adjoining fields when the team of officers burst into the venue. Eventually 17 people were placed under arrest, among whom were seven from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Officers also found that six dogs were being used in the fights, two of which were in the arena at the time of the raid. Another dog was found dead and based on its injuries is believed to have fought previously.

The 13 suspects who were eventually charged were given prison sentences of between two and eight months, suspended for three years, and ordered to pay fines of 2,000-5,000 euros.

Despite the short sentences and small fines, this was a very positive development because it shows that the authorities are starting to do something about the problem. I hope that this case will raise awareness among citizens and encourage people to report cases of animal abuse or suspicions that dogfights are being conducted. They can contact the police as well as local animal protection groups, Antonia Natsiopoulou, a member of a group protecting strays in Katerini, told Kathimerini.

According to police sources, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that dogfights are on the increase, though it is almost impossible to confirm suspicions and follow up on allegations.

We don't have any concrete evidence in our hands, said an officer at Athens Police Headquarters who declined to be named. Possibly because most are small-scale dogfights organized more or less with little planning between people who know each other, people who get together in small, tight-knit groups. If dogfights were being organized on a bigger scale and the bets were sizable, then we would certainly know a lot more.

The City of Athens department that is responsible for animal welfare also asserts that it has no information regarding dogfights being carried out in the municipality, nor has it rescued dogs that have been clearly injured in a fight.

However, animal rights groups say that the evidence they have points in the opposite direction.

We can't do the job of the police, but the indications we have suggest that dogfights are certainly taking place, according to Marina Lymberopoulou of Pitbull Rescue.

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday March 13, 2013 (18:37)  
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