Organized crime has gotten its claws into the lucrative market of breeding dogs with extreme physical characteristics, a BBC investigation has found.
This encompasses breeding bulldogs, including the newer American Bully breed, with excessive skin folds or larger, more muscular bodies.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a charity in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare, warns that criminals are breeding and selling these dogs to launder money and earn huge sums, often at the expense of the welfare of dogs.
BBC journalist Sam Poling posed as a businessman to investigate the practice of the extreme dog breeding trade.
I was surprised when my phone notified me about a message I had received from Thomas Rayment’s Facebook account, a convicted drug dealer that he knew he was in jail.
“Hello, do you want a male or a female? We have some puppies available.”
I had been using a false name for months, posing as businessman Stefan Delaney, an alleged dog lover with whose identity I was able to frequent dedicated Facebook groups. to bulldogs and American Bullies americans.
My goal was to find out who were the people who controlled the world of extreme dog breeding.
And now it seemed that my effort was beginning to pay off.
Rayment has been in prison since 2021, serving six years of sentence for running a prolific drug gang that supplied heroin and crack across the north of England.
But could he really be trading dogs from behind bars?
Rayment claimed to be the manager of the UK arm of a large international dog breeding business called Muscletone Bullys UK.
His name is often tagged in posts by other prominent figures in the network that trades in American Bullies.
From their Facebook account they send me photos of two of these dogs with a hyperdeveloped appearance, Brandon Blockhead and Kleowho just had a litter of puppies.
“This burly gorilla is no joke, he’s downright extreme,” reads Brandon Blockhead’s description on Rayment’s website. Have “one of the best pictures we have ever seenall in a super small and compact body.”
The tops of his ears have been cut off, an illegal practice in the UK known as ear cropping (otectomy).
The penalty for doing so can be up to five years in prison for causing suffering to an animal. But it’s a practice I’ve seen time and time again during my months of research.
In the last three years alone, the RSPCA has received over 1,000 reports of cases of this type of illegal ear cropping. Some dealers do the cutting themselves, without anesthetizing the dogs, which in most cases are of the American Bully breed.
This type of extreme dog breeding is big business. Puppies are being sold for tens of thousands of dollars on the Muscletone Bullys UK website.
After many rounds, back and forth communicating with the Rayment account, I finally receive the message I was desperately waiting for on my fake Facebook profile. My alter ego Stefan Delaney was invited to a meeting in Wigan to discuss a deal.
My plan consists of pretend to be Stefan’s girlfriend and tell him he’s late.
“I’m not going to lie to you”
I get to the address. It’s a canine fertility clinic. A man lets me in and shows me the place. His name is Ryan Howard. He tells me that he is Rayment’s partner.
I pretend to be confused about Rayment and that’s when Howard breaks the news to me.
“Tom is not here because he is in jail“, tells me.
“I don’t tell everyone, but you know who it is, so I’m not going to lie to you. You guys have been talking to Tommy.”
Howard tells me that he has about 120 dogs in his business, but only cares for 15 of them.
The other dogs are found around a network of “co-owners.”
In a “joint ownership,” the seller gets another person is the one who shelters the dog. That person charges a percentage of the sale of the puppies.
In this way, the trafficker can have a huge network of dogs with which to continue profiting without the authorities knowing how many he has.
lucrative and less dangerous
In a statement to the BBC, Muscletone Bullys UK said:
“We are known for breeding the highest quality extreme American Bully dogs without compromising the health and well-being of the dogs. Thomas Rayment does not communicate with anyone illegally and has other people in charge of his social media. We do not condone or participate in illegal ear cropping.”
The statement added that the business “has never co-owned a dog as a deliberate ploy to… escape the scrutiny of the licensing authorities”.
Ian Muttitt, Chief Inspector of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, says organized crime gangs have become increasingly involved in the extreme dog breeding trade over the past five years.
But what is the attraction of dog trafficking for criminals? First, she says, it’s lucrative. Second, it is useful for money laundering.
“It can be in anything in which illegal money has been obtained. Drugs, firearms or other organized crimes. Then it can be laundered through the sale of these dogs or vice versa, ”he explained.
The legal risks that come with this practice are also much less severe.
Muttitt points out that drug trafficking, for example, carries much higher penalties than crimes of animal cruelty.
I close Stefan Delaney’s fake Facebook profile for the last time. It is clear that the network I have discovered is not only huge, but sophisticated. That’s going to make it very difficult for authorities to break up this business, as dealers looking to profit from these dogs will continue to put wealth before health no matter what the cost. (YO)
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