A dogfighting case rocks Gaelic football

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:

BELFAST–A 17-month undercover
investigation of dogfighting by BBC Northern
Ireland’s Spotlight program, aired on August
30, caught County Tyrone Gaelic football star
Gerald Cavlan, 31, boasting in front of a
hidden camera about a dogfighting club he
cofounded called Bulldog Sanctuary Kennels.
Cavlan’s alleged use of the “sanctuary”
ruse appeared to be a first in the British Isles,
but U.S. dogfighters have often been caught in
recent years operating behind false front
“sanctuaries” and “rescues.” Some have
collected pit bull terriers and “bait” dogs and
cats from unwitting members of the public.
“The BBC program deployed an undercover
specialist from England who duped organizers of
two dog-fighting clubs in Northern Ireland and
two breeders of American pit bulls in Finland who
supplied dogs to Cavlan and other Northern
Ireland-based dog fighters,” reported Shawn
Pogatchnik of Associated Press. “All were filmed
discussing the tricks of their trade and methods
of evading detection.”
The two BBC crew confronted Finland-based
breeders Robert Gonzales and Paul Dunkel with
evidence of their activities before police
arrested them.

“The program displayed documents showing
Cavlan acquired a pit bull named Cannon Ball from
Gonzales, and traveled to Finland to observe dog
fights,” Pogatchnik wrote. Spotlight, the
flagship investigative program for BBC-Belfast,
also secretly filmed a dogfight in Finland
involving Gonzales and Tom Bell, an organizer of
another Northern Ireland dog-fighting club called
the Farmers Boys.
In April 2007 Cavlan pleaded guilty to
possession of a dangerous dog–Cannon Ball–after
the Ulster SPCA seized more than a dozen alleged
fighting dogs from a kennel that Cavlan co-owned
with an alleged Protestant extremist and drug
Cavlan was fined $1,300 and ordered not
to keep terriers, but was not suspended by the
Gaelic Athletic Association.
Cavlan’s dogfighting operation was small
compared to that of the Farmers Boys, said
Stephen Philpott of the Ulster SPCA. “The
Farmers Boys are the Manchester United of the dog
fighting world,” Philpott asserted. “Over the
last 25 years they have established trading
partners in inner city Britain, and are now
selling their dogs in Glasgow, Edinburgh,
Manchester, Liverpool, and London.”
BBC reporter Mandy McAuley, a member of
the undercover team, explained that the
dogfighters exploit the relatively open border
between Northern Ireland and the Republic of
Ireland, which unlike Britain allows possession
of pit bulls.
“They can bring dogs from other countries
to Dublin, then drive them up,” McAuley said.
“Then they can either keep the dogs for their own
breeding or fights, or put them on a ferry over
to Britain. We did this ourselves and saw how
easy it was.”
“The team went to Finland and bought a
pit bull from a breeder, who provided fake
documents identifying the dog as a boxer-Labrador
cross,” said BBC News. “They also witnessed a
fight in Finland which ended in the death of one
of the dogsŠa badly injured dog was electrocuted.”
The Ulster SPCA followed up the BBC
exposé with raids that impounded two suspected
fighting dogs and alleged dogfighting equipment.
In absence of an applicable national law,
the Dublin city council on July 1, 2007 banned
11 dog breeds from public housing, including
English and Staffordshire bull terriers,
American pit bulls, German shepherds,
Rottweilers, Dobermans, Rhodesian ridgebacks,
Akitas, bull mastiffs, bandogs, and Tosas.

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