Dozens of disappearing dogs are creating near hysteria among rural dog owners in northern B.C., a region plagued for years by rumours of organized dog fighting.
Witnesses hoping for further investigation have come forward to describe the violent events to the North Peace SPCA. and to police.
The rumours, coupled with the reported disappearance of more than 120 dogs in the past 12 months, are fuelling panic.
'Dogs just tearing each other apart'
One couple said they stumbled across an organized dog fight near Fort St. John.
"My dog just stopped dead in her tracks and jumped backwards," said the man, who told CBC he was walking his own puppy with his girlfriend, when they came across a circle of people huddled around "snarling" dogs in a fight in August or September of 2015, in a rural area near the city.
"We heard all the growling and the fighting and them going crazy at each other. And the people going 'Yah! Yah! Yah! Get 'em. Get 'em!'" said the man who spoke on condition his identity was protected.
"You hear the dogs just tearing each other apart," he said. "Growling and snarling and barking — yelping when they were getting hurt."
What they saw — and heard — left them sickened and terrified that those who organize dog fighting, might turn on them.
Evidence difficult to find
People who work with animals in the area say this couple's fears are founded.
"I totally believe it," said Candace Buchamer, the North Peace SPCA. branch manager, of the witness account.
Dog lovers and breeders fear northern B.C. dogs are at risk. One found a mutilated terrier in a ditch that died of its wounds within minutes. Another found a skinned canine, missing its head and paws, with deep bruising and evidence a microchip had been removed.
Buchamer said 127 dogs have disappeared in the last year from the Fort St. John area alone; that's double the previous year.
"They are taking two to three dogs at a time ... so it is planned," she added.
Injuries suggest dog fighting, said Buchamer
"We are seeing full intact animals with bites to their front limbs, their chest, their neck areas. It just doesn't add up."
Buchamer said she has seen 12 dead or injured dogs that have come to the SPCA with injuries consistent with dog fighting.
"If a wolf or a coyote had tracked that animal down and had hunted it [then] they do not just kill it and leave it. They are hunting it to have a meal. You are going to see some sort of predation on that animal. That's not the case."
Buchamer said she is speaking as a dog lover and not in her official capacity for the SPCA when it comes to her suspicions about illegal dog fighting and dog thefts.
"The collars would be left on the chains they were tied on. The fences would be open. Some dogs would be stolen right out of the back of pickup trucks," said Buchamer.
Owners fear pets used as 'bait dogs'
Some owners believe family pets are not only stolen to fight, but also to help train fighting dogs to be aggressive. Buchamer says the American Humane Society has found similar evidence.
"They will steal old and sickly large dogs strictly to teach their fighting dog how to be aggressive. These dogs don't stand a chance against the trained dogs, and it's only meant to give them that thirst for the blood and to go until the death, " Buchamer explained.
The thought of this terrifies people who have lost dogs.
"I've been out there every day looking for my dog," said Sherry Lafournie.
She tears ups when she thinks about her beloved pit bull-cross Braxton. She fears he may have been stolen for use as a bait dog near Dawson Creek in January.
"Why else would you take a dog that you don't know?" she said.
Spike in missing dogs
Braxton is one of dozens of missing dogs whose photos appear on social media pages designed to help find them.
Several dogs have been found shot or mutilated, then discarded in roadside snowbanks.
Strange skinned carcasses and reports of suspected dognappers trying to lure mostly large bully breeds into vehicles have set off panic among dog lovers.
"We've had strange vehicles driving up and down the road turning their lights off, and then a week later my dog disappears," said Lafournier.
Brad Tanner's dog Chocco disappeared last year. The dog breeder who lives near Cecil Lake spoke out about dog fighting, convinced his dog had been stolen and illegal fight organizers played a role.
Then Chocco turned up — dead.
Family dog found shot
"[Chocco] was shot in the back of the neck, point blank range."
Tanner is convinced dog fights are happening, bait dogs are being used and that his dog was killed to shut him up.
"I caused enough shit that these people got nervous," said Tanner.
"People will bet money on how long that dog will live for... all kinds of sick, sick things." Since then he has invested thousands in new fencing, security cameras and a dog tracking system.
He also started a Facebook page — Stolen Dogs 911 — to track the numbers of missing animals, even offering a $3,000 reward for information about dog-fighting rings.
Petition demands investigation
Tanner is one of nearly 1,000 panicked dog owners who have signed a petition demanding the province give the SPCA and the RCMP resources to investigate.
They point to the American Humane Society, which raided hundreds of U.S. dog rings, resulting in dozens of convictions.
Tanner can't understand the lack of action, insisting fears are not paranoia.
"It's undeniable. You tell me where 200 dogs are going in a year?"
CBC News Investigates
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