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Forced to fight or die: The cruel, illegal and underground world of dog fights

Forced to fight or die: The cruel, illegal and underground world of dog fights
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In the northern part of India, loathsome games of animal fights are practiced widely. Dog fights are prevalent in Punjab, Haryana and many parts of Rajasthan. This sickening amusement is pursued in rural communities and in certain semi-urban pockets in Delhi, NRC as well. Over here, the fights between dogs are fixed by people for both entertainment and gambling. The owner's pride and lots of money are at stake. Two dogs are made to fight each other and are expected to fight till death regardless of their torn limbs, and broken bones, even though they are screaming in pain of their wounds. This horrific blood sport is illegal in India and is more often known to be practised openly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and some primitive societies. But in countries like the USA and India, they are played underground in hidden farms, basements, and garages, known only to a select few, making it much harder to catch and root out.

Here American Pit Bulls, Indian Alangu Mastiffs aka Pakistani Bully and Pakistani Mastiffs are the most common dogs which are used in these despicable matches. An animal loses if it dies or submits to the stronger opponent. Unfortunately, the dog who was seriously injured and gave up during the fight is the one who is at risk of being culled by its owner.

The value of a dog rises with the number of wins it registers under its name and it is rewarded with food and perks which makes it even more violent and bloodthirsty. A good record also makes them suitable for breeding, creating another line of tough, aggressive fighters.

Every dog owner wants his dog to win and there are many ways that the owners use to make their dogs massive and aggressive. Cutting off its tail and ears makes the easily biteable parts inaccessible to the rival dog. Also, there are some terrible practices including making the dog wear heavy chains and adding extra weights to it, making it swim in ice-cold water, dogs running for miles, pulling SUV tyres, damaging their bodies beyond repair.

All this is done in the name of building stronger and harder fighters which will bring the owner fame and prestige. Small animals like live chickens, puppies, rabbits, adult stray dogs and cats are used as baits to train the dog to kill in fights and make them more violent. They are often starved before training sessions so they see these animals as their only food source.

They are injected with steroids, force-fed synthetic protein powders, and medications to build up their muscles, damaging their heart and kidneys, so they usually have very short lives. Even their drinking water and sleep is rationed before a fight to make them more irritable and raring for a fight before the match starts.

The most terrible part is due to the losing owner's hurt ego, it results in a cruel death for the losing animals. The dog defeated during the fight can be burnt, drowned, poisoned, electrocuted and have its head smashed to the wall or simply stoned or beaten to death.

An NGO, Fauna Police, founded by a fierce animal rights activist Abhinav Srihan, is working tirelessly to rescue these brutalized creatures as well as wounded and abused or ill animals and birds. According to Srihan, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra are some of the locations known to the authorities where action should be urgently taken against individuals who proudly showcase these illegal activities openly through social media accounts. Some videos are shot in person by the owner and sent to popular sites to be uploaded.

Srihan has also exposed illegal wildlife trade hotspots in Kanpur, Lucknow and Bihar by conducting on-ground investigations and sharing the information with the authorities. More than 400 videos of dogfights, 600 videos of wildlife hunting and more than 50 videos of illegal greyhound racing have been posted on Abhinav Srihan's various social media platforms.

Shockingly, in Punjab dogs are used to hunt wildlife in the jungle and are bred, trained cruelly, housed in a filthy, crammed environment and starved so that they hunt animals in jungles as the only way to satisfy their hunger. Many well-known people sometimes join these hunting parties, which often go on for days. Sometimes, large animals are targeted and the owners of the dogs cook and feast on them, along with consuming alchohol and narcotics, and with all-night music and dancing, in gross violation of the law, as most wild animals cannot be hunted or consumed as food.

Further, the NGO Fauna Police has shared music videos by Punjabi singers Diljit Dosanjh called 'Pitbull' and Kamal Grewal's 'Sarkari Ban', in which both allude to the illegal activity. Animal rights activists claim that these types of songs regularly feature or glorify prohibited animal-related activities such as cockfighting, dog fighting, bull racing, greyhound racing and pigeon-flying competitions.

To enhance animals' performance, dangerous use of steroids is also prevalent. Vets illegally provide and advise on the administration of certain drugs in animals whose bodies are already ravaged by the use of these drugs, leading to serious illness and death.

Recently, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) also sent a letter to the Animal Husbandry department of the Punjab government after Fauna Police reported more than 100 cases of dog fighting and more than 270 instances of wildlife poaching, a majority of which were in Punjab. Repeated requests to successive governments have not borne any results as everyone is afraid of upsetting the powerful farming lobby and the rich aristocrats who indulge in these sports.

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