Dogs of war safely home
Cape Town - They were destined for security firms, breeding pens and to be bloodied and killed in fighting pits. The 30 allegedly stolen dogs rescued at the Angolan and SA border posts were lifted from lives filled with starvation and violence when a task team intercepted smugglers last week.
But it wasn’t an easy mission when the team, spearheaded by ex-military officer and Global Animal Welfare consultant Mariette Hopley, decided to take on a dog smuggling ring which has reportedly been active for more than 10 years.
On August 23, Hopley was tasked by various animal welfare organisations to aid in the retrieval of dogs that had been illegally transported to the Angolan border post.
By August 26, after intense negotiations between Hopley’s team and Angolan authorities, the thoroughbred dogs and puppies, including huskies, Alsatians and Rottweilers, were walked over the border back into Namibia. But their work wasn’t over.
Last Monday, the police reported that they had confiscated two bakkies filled with dogs on the Vioolsdrift border post. In total 30 dogs were retrieved by the team.
Hopley warned that these dogs represent just a small portion of the smuggling ring’s activities.
“We believe over 120 000 dogs have been smuggled out of the country and into Angola in the past 10 years,” she said.
The dogs are currently being safely housed in kennels in SA, with the 15 dogs retrieved at Otjiwarongo border being kept at the State Veterinary Quarantine Station in Milnerton.
Many owners have already been reunited with dogs and puppies they had given up on ever finding again. The team said more owners will come forward and claim their pets, but they will have to wait to take them home as the dogs are part of the criminal evidence being used against the smugglers.
Milan Cronje, who is a member of the non-profit organisation Watershed, which funded the operation, said the dogs were made to endure terrible conditions.
Cronje said the dogs found on the bakkies were held down with chicken wire, with puppies sitting almost paralysed on top of the older dogs.
“They spent the day sitting in their own faeces,” he said. “They were forced to drink their own urine just to stay alive.”
He added that the dogs were deliberately starved by the smugglers to lower their weight for the borders.
According to the team, while 5 percent of the dogs would be used by security firms and another 10 percent for breeding purposes, the majority of the thoroughbred animals would be used in fighting pits.
But while boerboels can be starved into a fight, according to Cronje, more docile breeds such as huskies are used as bait dogs.
“They will cover them in blood and throw them into the pit with two fighting dogs to try and drive them into a frenzy,” said Cronje. “The bait dog is ripped apart by the other two.”
According to Captain William Dreyer, who is overseeing the investigation into the smuggling ring, there is a large and lucrative dog fighting culture in Angola: “There’s a lot of gambling, and this means smugglers can grab around R10 000 per dog.”
A total of six suspects have already been arrested in connection with the dog smuggling syndicate, with four of the suspects being held in Cape Town. But Dreyer said this was just the “tip of the tip of the iceberg”.
Until the investigation is completed, the export of dogs across SA and Namibian borders has been put on hold with lengthy interrogations awaiting anyone who planned to take more than two dogs out of the country.