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October 29, 2012

Sinking Our Teeth In: The Battle against Dogfighting in Costa Rica is On

Humane Society International/Latin America

  • HSI/Latin America's Regional Director, Cynthia Dent, and SENASA's Director, Germán Rojas, opened the training by signing a cooperation agreement. HSI

  • Police officers from various regions were among the more than 70 attendees. HSI

  • Closing of the training. HSI

Animal fights are, unfortunately, a widespread occurrence in Latin America, even in Costa Rica.

Although such fights are illegal here, a growing underworld of dogfighting and cockfighting rings still attracts spectators from all over the country and beyond, eager to put large sums of money on the line for a cruel spectacle where the true currency is blood.

The Costa Rican Animal Health Service (SENASA), in charge of overseeing animal health and animal welfare issues, has had its hands full recently with cases of animal fights and animal cruelty, which have come to its attention thanks to the growing number of reports and tips it receives. Dogfighting in Costa Rica has evolved from sporadic, mostly improvised matches held in makeshift facilities in rural areas to urban events with a highly organized structure, including “championships” featuring new, imported dogfighting breeds and bloodlines.

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Round one

Humane Society International hosted a training last week in San José for more than 70 participants, including police officers, animal welfare advocates and representatives from the various regional offices of SENASA.

They were a rapt audience, closely following the presentations by experts from The Humane Society of the United States -- the parent organization of HSI -- on the topics of dogfighting, animal welfare, and animal rescue and seizure. They had plenty of stories of their own, but mostly, they were full of questions.

This two-day training is the opening salvo in HSI and SENASA’s battle to bring animal fights to an end. And a battle it will be, requiring not only greater and more concerted efforts between the animal health service, law enforcement, animal welfare activists and NGO’s to prevent the fights themselves from actually taking place, but also a massive effort to educate the population on the cruelty involved and the risks that these fights represent to their communities.

Championing cooperation

Although legislation often times implies seamless cooperation on issues that require an interdepartmental approach, this event was the first opportunity for many of the attendees to meet face-to-face. Add to that the inevitable questions raised by the implementation of the law, and the importance of such trainings becomes obvious.

"We are pleasantly surprised by the response we got from the audience," said Adam Parascandola, director of HSUS’s Cruelty Response team and head of the visiting delegation of experts. "They are very committed to their respective responsibilities and that is essential to their collective success, but no less crucial is the realization that despite the difficulties and the challenges that they face, they are not alone in their efforts."

"We’re thankful to HSI for giving us the opportunity to be here and providing a forum to share our experiences," said a regional SENASA representative present at the event. And with a recently signed cooperation agreement between SENASA and HSI, we expect to effectively contribute to the ongoing battle against animal cruelty in Costa Rica.

The fight is on. 

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