The SPCA has launched an investigation into the owner of this pit bull after the dog was left emaciated and severely malnourished.
The SPCA has launched an investigation into the owner of this pit bull after the dog was left emaciated and severely malnourished.

The illicit breeding of pit bulls is fuelling a growing black market of aggressive animals and unsuitable owners.

Experts say the banned breed is increasingly being used by criminals as a status symbol or to guard drug stashes.

And there is evidence to suggest pit bulls are still being bred and used in dog fights.

Illegally bred puppies change hands on the street for up to $3,000, the SPCA has claimed.

And Government dog wardens are confiscating four or five puppies every month - many of them after police-led drug raids.

Many are ultimately taken in legally by caring owners.

But authorities fear that too many pit bulls are falling into the wrong hands.

Neglected and unlicenced pit bull dogs often end up at the Society for the Protection of Animals in Paget.

In the last few weeks the charity has received reports of pit bull puppies being drowned as well as being strengthened for fighting.

And it has launched a cruelty investigation into a severely malnourished pit bull that was taken from a young man who had previously posted pictures of the animal on Facebook.

The charity says that around 85 per cent of the dogs it takes in are pit bulls or pit bull crosses.

Kim Sherlaw, director of the SPCA, told the Sun that Bermuda’s small “gene pool” for illegal pit bull breeding made for aggressive dogs.

Ms. Sherlaw said: “Recently we have dealt with reports of a pit bull puppy being forced to drag a concrete block in Somerset.

“This kind of practice is typically associated with strengthening the dogs for fighting.

“While a neglect case we are looking into at the moment is a classic example of young man having a pit bull as a status symbol and not looking after it properly.

“This is an international problem with the breed – and it means that some younger people take on these dogs do it for the wrong reasons.”

Ms. Sherlaw added: “The SPCA conducts temperament tests on all dogs available for adoption, those who are aggressive to human or other animals are not candidates for adoptions.

“Some of the dogs we have taken in from the Government Animals Wardens and the public are too aggressive to be adopted.

“That comes about often because of the way they are bred – the small gene pool means they are bred with related animals and that can lead to temperament problems.

“Often the temperament problems result from the way they have been treated throughout their life, but particularly as puppies.

“We have taken in animals that have obviously been used for fighting.

“Pit bulls are a persecuted breed – and we do not promote the ban on them. They can make great family pets.

“But we are seeing more cases when the animals have been poorly bred and cared for or treated as status symbols which leads to significant behavior problems.”

Dog fighting

Government vet Jonathan Nisbett said he believed dog fighting had diminished in Bermuda – but admitted it probably had not been completely eliminated.

Mr. Nisbett told the Sun dog wardens were often called in by police to seize pit bulls after drugs warrants had been executed.

He added: “Illegal breeding of pit bulls is a problem in Bermuda – there is no doubt that people are continuing to breed these animals.

“The market is obviously there too because they would not be bred unless people were prepared to pay for them.

“The dogs are seen by some as badges of honour or a status symbols.

“And that is something we are still trying to tackle.

“From what we are seeing – it seems that the number of pit bulls in Bermuda is increasing now.

“We are finding more and more puppies – around four to five puppies every month – and that means it is too common.

 “Some have got very good homes and are well looked after, but others are simply used to guard drugs stashes and neglected.

“The breeding is often done behind closed doors and sale arrangements are done just through word of mouth to avoid detection.”

Vet Andrew Madeiros confirmed he had seen an increase in the number of pit bull surrenders in the last year.

He said the breed ban had caused illegal breeders to go underground to sell pit bull puppies.

Mr. Madeiros, who is also chairman of the SPCA, added: “The trouble with that is that some people don’t bring in their dogs for treatment when they are sick because they are unlicenced and worried they will be taken away from them.

“In the last couple of years I have detected a change – there seems to be a resurgence in the breed.

“And we are coming up against the same problems which we faced just before the ban was imposed.

“I hear people are literally selling pit bull puppies on the street and can name their price – from $2,000 to $3,000.

“Many of these puppies that are brought in have health problems and temperament problems because of the small gene pool from which they are bred.

“At the SPCA we have had more complaints about pit bulls in the last year than we have had for a long time.

“And there have been more pit bulls being surrendered of late too.” 

The problem is not the breed – it it’s the people who mistreat and abuse pit bulls.

That’s the view of Winston Godwin, a father of three, who has two pit bulls at his home in Sandys.

Mr. Godwin and his family adopted their first pit bull, Gyro, 13 years ago before the breed was banned in Bermuda.

And just a couple of months ago the Godwin family took in nine-month old Misty from the SPCA.

Misty was transferred to the SPCA by government animal wardens after she was found as a stray.

Scrutiny

Mr. Godwin said: “What I always tell people is that they should not have banned the breed but introduced more scrutiny on those who decide to take dogs on.

“If there was a procedure like there is for adopting at the SPCA that would be a very good start.”

He added: “I see young men who want to get a pit bull to fight it or to show they are big and strong.

“It’s a macho thing – these men put chains on their dogs to make them look fierce.

“And the effect that has is that when I take my dogs out – people cross the street to get away or avoid them.

“And that is a shame because these dogs are great family pets.

“They just love to play and run around and they are loyal too.”