Dozens of reports of dog fighting in Lancashire have been made to the authorities, it has been revealed.
Almost 150 calls about organised fighting have been made to the RSPCA in the county since 2006, according to new figures.
But during that period there were just 137 convictions nationally, with experts fearing it is difficult to bring about prosecutions.
The maximum sentence for offenders is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine, but campaigners want that to be increased.
Abi Sadler, animal manager at Lancashire rescue charity Animal Care, said the centre saw dozens of animals with “unexplained scars”, with some of those believed to have been used as bait, used to train fighting dogs.
She said: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Staffies can be absolutely fantastic - it’s the person that has the lead and trains and encourages them to do this
“They train the dog up to be as strong as possible, they do all sorts of things - in the house they will tie a rope to the ceiling so the dog jumps up and grabs it, making its neck stronger.
“Then they go on to live bait. This is where we have real concerns over social media - people selling pets over it, rabbits, kittens, guinea pigs, they are the first thing they practise on.
“Then they start practising on other dogs - it’s thrown into a ring and the dog is persuaded and encouraged to nearly kill that dog.” Abi said the dogs used could be all kinds of dogs, but were often Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
She said: “Staffies can be absolutely fantastic - it’s the person that has the lead and trains and encourages them to do this.
“They are encouraged to do it, they are not born bad, no dog is born bad.
“The ones we have had in used for dog bait have been small Staffies - they have literally been ripped to pieces and they are absolutely petrified.”
Abi said, while such dogs later tended to be terrified of other dogs, they were often “forgiving” of humans and could be rehomed.
She said: “They are petrified of other dogs, so it’s about working with them teaching them not every dog they meet is going to kill them.”
Abi said animals came to Animal Care in Lancaster every week from pounds all over the North West, with about one in 10 having “unexplained scars”.
The most recent case the centre had of a dog used as bait was Staffordshire Bull Terrier Daisy, who left the centre about seven months ago.
Daisy, who vets estimated was about 18 months old when she arrived, almost bled to death and was saved “just in time”, and is now in a “wonderful” new home with other dogs after being looked after at Animal Care.
Abi said dog fighting seemed to be on the rise andadded: “I honestly don’t know why, I don’t know what goes through people’s minds to think that’s okay.” But, despite the apparent rise in cases, the number of prosecutions remains relatively low.
She added: “It’s finding the person that actually owns the dog, that is difficult. Not every dog is chipped so it’s hard to find the owner, so there’s no one to prosecute.
“The dog is removed by the authorities and put to sleep – that’s the dog’s life.
“The owners get away scot-free and then they go on Facebook, get another dog and it’s an endless cycle.
“It’s becoming an issue that we can’t really keep an eye on.”
She urged anyone who thought a dog may be being trained to fight to contact the police, RSPCA or dog warden.
According to the data released by the RSPCA, Lancashire was the seventh highest county in the UK for calls to the charity for dog fighting with 2014 and 2015 some of the worst figures to date.
In 2014, 24 calls were made and in 2015, 19 reports were logged with the RSPCA in the county.
The charity listed Lancashire’s population as just more than 146,000 and said there were 10 reports of dog fights per 100,000 people.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “All organised dog fighting is both cruel and illegal. If you suspect that dog fighting is taking place, contact either the police or an animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA. For more information about dangerous dogs, go to the Lancashire Police website.”
RSPCA chief inspector Mike Butcher - recognised as one of Britain’s leading experts on dog fighting - said: “We need new deterrents to tackle the brutal spectacle of fighting two dogs in a pit, which continues to be an increasing problem despite it being made illegal more than 180 years ago.
“England has fallen behind other countries, including Northern Ireland, in its sentencing for dog fighting. We welcomed the announcement by the Government in 2015, that dog fighting is a serious offence and that sentencing needs to be increased and hope they will announce measures to rectify this.
“I’ve seen footage of dogs gasping for life, covered in blood, as people encourage another dog to inflict yet more suffering upon them. Even after more than three decades investigating organised animal crime, I still find it shocking to actually think someone could gain so much pleasure from something so cruel.”
Jeremy Cooper, chief executive of the RSPCA, added: “Day in, day out, our inspectors deal with animals who have been scalded with boiling water, stabbed, shot, poisoned or forced to fight to the death. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
“We would like to see a further review of sentencing under the Animal Welfare Act to allow magistrates to give stronger sentences to those guilty of the worst animal offences.
“This could bring sentences for animal welfare cruelty and neglect in England and Wales into line with Northern Ireland where the maximum sentence is five years in prison.”
• Contact police on 101 or the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.
Dog fighting cases
Despite figures being unavailable for dog fighting convictions in Lancashire, the Gazette has reported on several cases.
In Fleetwood in 2015, the owner of a cat found dead in an alleyway said she believed its killing was linked to dog fighting, after the bodies of her cat and two others were recovered.
The cat was found to have puncture wounds on its head, and bullet wounds in its stomach, with the owner believing it had been mauled by a dog and shot at.
In 2007, a 28-year-old man from Preston was found guilty of attending one of the largest dog fights ever uncovered by the RSPCA, which left two pitbull terriers dead.
He had denied attending the gruesome duel at a kitchen interior store in February, 2006, at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, but he was found guilty of attending the fight and given a fine.
In the same year, a 40-year-old man from Accrington was sentenced to six months in prison for dog fighting offences, after officers executed a warrant at two addresses in Accrington and Blackburn.
When officers entered the Accrington address, blood was found on the walls, DNA samples were taken and the results came back that this was blood from more than one dog.
The man was arrested at the Blackburn address, where police and RSPCA officers found a pitbull dog which had been starved and shut in a box as well as two video clips of dog fights on his mobile phone.
Then in 2009, two Blackburn men were jailed after they forced their dogs to fight and filmed the cruel spectacle on mobile phones.
The two men, aged 22 and 25, admitted goading their pitbull terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier dogs to fight.