Claims that dogs in the Victorian town of Ballarat are being stolen for use in illegal pitched fights are being investigated by police.
Senior officers have confirmed that police are probing allegations of the theft of several dogs from the Ballarat area in recent months. Senior Sergeant Peter McCormick said police had been made aware of theft reports and were looking into the claims.
Devastated owners believe the dogs are being taken for use in lucrative pitched-fights with other dogs.
Rewards of several thousand dollars are on offer for the return of some of these dogs, but The Courier has been told thieves can be paid much more to enter a dog into these secretive fights.
While Bunkers Hill woman Ashlee Pring’s dogs returned after being missing for two days in late January, she thought it strange one dog returned without its heavy-duty collar.
While researching missing dog cases when her pets disappeared, Ms Pring spoke to people who suggested large dogs were being stolen in the Ballarat area by people driving two utes with “cages on the back”.
Last month, The Courier spoke with the devastated family of a stolen staffordshire terrier, including seven- year-old Sarah Parsell, who said she “never had anyone else to play with” after her pet was stolen.
Her mother Deborah said Ruby was stolen from their Hertford Street home on January 3. She is still missing today.
“She was in the backyard with us and had run out through the side gate,” she said.
“I knew she’d been stolen because she’d disappeared as soon as I got out the front.”
Ms Parsell said Ruby was also seen in late January with a group of teenage boys in the Sebastopol area and sightings have also been reported in Delacombe.
In October, a Redan man was released on a good behaviour bond after he was caught trying to sell two stolen dogs.
During the court hearing, it was revealed “there probably were a line of people involved,” in the theft and sale operation.
Last year, a Victorian group dedicated to finding missing or stolen dogs listed Ballarat as a “hot spot” for thefts of dogs, particularly staffordshire bull terriers.
Tracie Spicer, head of web-based group Stolen/Missing and Found Staffords Victoria, said pit fighting was a real concern for dog owners in the Ballarat area.
Anyone with information on suspicious activity can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.