I have a friend, a well-liked fellow practitioner who’s an all-around nice guy. We used to hang out, have a few beers and talk about guy things. He’s a loving husband and a caring father. Lets call him Frank.
Frank also breeds pit bulls. And like any proud pet owner, he brings his dogs to “dog shows”. Only these dog shows are strictly by invitation only. To see one, somebody within a tight circle of sportsmen has to vouch for you. Which is why when Frank invited me to a dog show to be held in cockpit somewhere in San Juan, I politely declined. Frank is among a growing number of dog fighting aficionados in Manila and environs.
To be sure, the Philippines has a long tradition of blood sports involving animals from spiders to horses. Cock fighting is perfectly legal and is in fact a cherished cultural institution. Betting in these activities run into the millions of pesos per event. It is therefore not surprising that dog fighting would gain a foothold here.
Dog fighting is illegal, of course. The Animal Welfare Act of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8485) provides:
“Sec. 6. It shall be unlawful for any person to torture any animal, to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject any dog or horse to dogfights or horsefights, kill or cause or procure to be tortured or deprived of adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat or use the same in research or experiments not expressly authorized by the Committee on Animal Welfare.”
A few months back, there were news reports of arrests made in connection with a dog fighting ring in Antipolo, involving locals and a number of foreigners. I wonder if they were prosecuted. The Animal Welfare Act provides for a Committee on Animal Welfare attached to the Department of Agriculture which shall oversee the implementation of the provisions of the law. Aside from being unwieldy, as the Committee encompasses no less than 14 independent groups and entities, it has no powers of enforcement. It has to rely on the police, with predictable results. It meets only every three months or so and I doubt if it has been provided with an adequate budget. It is, for all practical purposes, inutile. Any meaningful initiative to protect animal rights will therefore have to come from private groups like the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
Part of the allure of dog fighting is its underground mystique. Not everyone can engage in dog fighting. Enthusiasts are generally well-heeled and willing to invest in building up a competitive stable. They hire vets and trainers to look after their dogs. And they bet large sums on the outcome of dog shows. The costs involved gives dog fighting a sort of perverse cachet. And the fact that’s it illegal gives it a kind of gangster appeal, specially among rebellious young people.
The most favored fighting dog is, of course, the pit bull. According to those in the know, this breed is quite intelligent and attuned to every personal nuance of their owners or trainers. Pit bulls have reputation for being fierce and tenacious fighters. And their seemingly bland and expressionless demeanor gives a chilling impression of them being stone-cold killers.
Given our predilection for the heady mix of gore and gambling, I fear the shadowy world of dog fighting is here to stay.