On Wednesday 16 October, a 13-year-old Ocean View resident’s dog went missing after he followed her to school in the morning.Little did she know he had been picked up during the day and forced to fight another dog. After losing the fight, and being critically injured, the dog’s head was smashed in with a rock. One of the dogfighters “threw a boulder on the dog’s head and then it died”, explains Ingrid de Storie, an animal lover and an activist for animal rights.Affectionately known as the Mother Theresa of animals (“Saving distressed animals”, People’s Post, 3 September), De Storie is concerned about the growing number of dogfights taking place in the Ocean View community. The SPCA reveals the issue is much more widespread.While dogfighting is illegal in South Africa in terms of the Animals Protection Act, the SPCA Cape of Good Hope’s spokesperson, Belinda Abraham, confirms that she has observed an increase in the number of dogfighting cases reported – especially in the Cape Flats.Many may be under the impression that the blood sport is practised for financial gain, but Abraham and the operations manager at The Emma Animal Rescue Society (Tears), Mandy Store, agree that the reasons for people pitting their dogs against each other are more than likely a social issue. Tears is primarily a veterinary clinic which avails their services to the under-resourced communities of Cape Town, such as Vrygrond, Ocean View, Masiphumelele and Redhill. They rescue, rehome, rehabilitate and care for animals, and carry out awareness programmes for pet owners and the general public. Store, based on her years of work in these communities, believes the problem of dogfighting does not stem from organised syndicates, but rather children who need attention, affection and status.De Storie alleges that she is aware of one man who coerces local children to do his dirty work. “He sits at home and he sends the kids to go do the dogfighting. Then they make videos of it and bring the videos to him, and he praises his dog. He won’t go – he sends the children who don’t want to go to school.”Store adds: “It’s become a lot more prevalent in the past two years and it’s not just gang-related anymore. Now we find it’s happening in high schools. A lot of them (dogfighters) have left school and come from broken homes and want attention. It’s more a human welfare issue than an animal cruelty issue.”Whatever the reason, cruelty to animals is a large part of the world of dogfighting. De Storie says the torture she has seen the dogs go through is more than she can bear. “They kick the dogs while the dogs are fighting. As the dogs fight, they pull the dog’s balls, pinching them and twisting so that he can get more aggressive,” she explains.The sport is often linked to other criminal activities and subcultures, and the effect witnessing these dog fights might have on children is worrisome. Abraham explains: “Children are often present and, besides the inherent danger of the situation to a child, their witnessing such premeditated acts of cruelty leads to a growing desensitisation to violence. “Dogfighting is a strong indicator of a society in decay as it promotes and encourages a culture of non-empathy. This routine exposure of children to both criminal activities and unfettered animal abuse and neglect can be a major contributing factor in their later manifestation of conduct disorders and social deviance.”Both Tears and the SPCA are carrying out programmes to teach children empathy for animals.Tears will be running two training sessions. The first is to determine the types of relationship formed between animals and their carers and to influence them in terms of their value systems. The second session is to assess these relationships.“We’re trying to find the root of the problem and with this information, we then need to approach social services to address the needs of the children,” says Store.The SPCA’s Ani-Pal Education Programme also teaches children compassion for animals via an interactive puppet show and provides teachers with workbooks (endorsed by the South African department of basic education) to ensure further teaching and the reinforcement of their message. “This not only creates a kinder world for animals but also paves the way for a humane and ethically responsible society. It teaches children empathy and respect for life, thereby setting learners on a valuable life path based on firm moral values and making them less likely to become perpetrators of violent crimes,” says Abraham.During this past year, they have performed the award-winning Ani-Pals puppet show 140 times to 14 315 children throughout Cape Town.Dogfighting and all animal cruelty is punishable in accordance with the Animals Protection Act.Sgt Leon Fortuin, the spokesperson for Ocean View police, confirms a case has been opened at the police station regarding the 13-year-old resident’s dog that was killed after being forced to fight.In contravention of the national act, as well as the City of Cape Town’s Animal Bylaw of 2010, the suspects (who are minors) involved in the dogfighting are being investigated and will be prosecuted in accordance with the Juvenile Justice System.In a warning to dogfighters, the SPCA states the practice of the sport may result in the following punishments:By imprisonment: s sentence of imprisonment for a period not exceeding three (3) years, where the court is not the court of a regional division (district court), or not exceeding fifteen (15) years, where the court is the court of a regional division. By fine: a fine not exceeding the amount determined by the minister from time to time by notice in the Gazette for the respective courts referred to in paragraph (a); [this is currently R60 000 for a district court, and R300 000 for a regional court].