The RCMP has broken its silence about dog-fighting allegations in central B.C. saying a complaint of illegal fighting near Charlie Lake B.C. has been found to be "false."
However, the eyewitness who described the alleged fight to CBC said police never interviewed him directly about what happened, and others who complained weren't able to get police officers to tour the suspected fight site.
A petition signed by more than 2,200 people is demanding more of an investigation.
Two months after numerous inquiries to RCMP, police responded to CBC Thursday in an email.
"In 2015, we received information of a possible dog-fighting ring in Charlie Lake that, upon investigation, was unfounded and turned out to be a false report," said Inspector Mike Kurvers, the officer in charge of the Fort St. John RCMP Detachment.
CBC had been trying to get answers about allegations of dog fighting in in the area since Jan. 4. At the time, the media officer replied:
"I don't have any information regarding dog fighting in Fort St John. Your best source for this information would be with the local SPCA or if the City of Fort St. John has any bylaw enforcement officers," said Cpl. Dave Tyreman.
A couple told CBC it had come across a fight in progress, but would talk about it anonymously, saying they were too afraid to go to the police. The local SPCA told CBC two other eyewitnesses provided it with a written statement concerning a second incident.
Several people told CBC they had informed RCMP in 2015 about what they saw or heard and tried to get police officers to tour the suspected fight site.
"No officer ever walked that property — the correct address — as far as I know," said Jason Harder, who is convinced that a circle of trampled grass in the bush behind some Charlie Lake homes was the site of the violence.
Neighbours in the Charlie Lake area confirmed they heard "barking, snarling and screaming," from the rural area behind their homes and trailers in the late summer of 2015. It frightened two people so much they refused to hike the trails, but none said they had spoken to police.
A total of 127 dogs have disappeared from the Fort St. John area, according to the local SPCA.
The community has become fearful that pets are being stolen to help fighting dogs train to be aggressive, causing many of them to keep their canines indoors, leashed and monitored.
"Looking for lost pets is probably not high on their radar at this particular time." - Public Safety Minister Mike Morris
Minister blames wildlife
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris said he needs more confirmation before he takes any action.
"From what I understand the RCMP in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek have received very few complaints," Morris told the CBC today.
"[The RCMP] are concentrating on the organized crime activities ... looking for lost pets is probably not high on their radar at this particular time until somebody can show us that there's some activities," Morris said.
The minister said in his experience, working as a northern RCMP officer for 32 years, missing pets are common and the culprit is usually "coyotes," not crime rings.
"I've heard of lots of missing pets and most of them are attributable to being predated upon by cougars and wolves and other predators like coyotes," he said.
Eye-witness accounts and wounded dogs
Animal advocates in Northern B.C. say there is evidence but also fear. One breeder described a Terrier she found in a ditch mutilated, as if in a fight.
The SPCA branch manager has seen 12 dogs come through with wounds consistent with the scars and punctures found on dogs in U.S. investigations of dog-fight rings, a rampant problem south of the border.
At least two alleged eye witnesses gave written statements to the SPCA, urging them to look into the spectre of dogs used in organized fighting.
"Obviously the more details we can get its better for our constable so they can follow up," said Lori Chortyk, community relations manager for the B.C. SPCA.
"Like any enforcement agency we follow the evidence...that's not to say it's not going on, said Chortyk.
In the U.S. the Humane Society has raided dozens of dog-fighting rings and prosecuted as many organizers.
Often investigations spanned months or years, using undercover operatives and a small army of sheriffs and police.
SPCA managers and animal advocates say they are hindered by short-staffing and lack of police training in Canada when it comes to the issue of alleged dog-fight rings.
"I have worked closely with local RCMP in regard to this concern over the past five years but due to lack of evidence of criminal activity they are unable to resolve the concern," said Wendy Davies branch manager of the B.C.SPCA South Peace Branch in Dawson Creek.
"We encourage animal owners to closely watch their beloved pets and to not leave their dogs unattended," said Davies.
Dead dogs suspected as bait dogs
The discovery of skinned and mutilated canines in the area — one near Taylor B.C — has driven more speculation.
"It was disturbing. There was lots of bruising in the muscle on both sides," said, Kari Greco a veterinary technician at Rivers Animal Hospital in Fort St. John, B.C.
Greco examined the skinned animals found frozen in a snowbank near Fort. St. John.
"The head was cut off and all 4 paws were cut off," she said.
The local SPCA suspects the animal was a dog that was mutilated to hide its identity. Wounds were consistent with the removal of a microchip and facial features that would have identified the animal.
Animal advocates suspect this dog was used as bait and discarded.
"It's very sad. If it is occurring I'm really disturbed about it. There's definitely a possibility that could be going on," said Greco.