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Sunday, November 14, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dog Fighting On The Rise Among Poor Of Honduras

The Associated Press

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Teeth bared, the pit bulls strain at each other so hard they pull themselves upright on their leashes. At a signal, their owners let go and the dogs throw themselves at one another.

The veteran, Dino, has a 10-0 record. Argus has never fought before, but he surprises the crowd on the wooden bleachers as he sinks his teeth into Dino's lips and neck.

After 15 minutes, Dino is slumped on the floor with Argus standing over him, both covered with deep puncture wounds, both too exhausted to continue. The referee declares a draw.

Dog fighting is immensely popular in the poor shantytowns of urban Honduras. With no laws protecting pets here, owners are free to bring their dogs to the fighting rings.

Indeed, dog fights are increasingly common all across Latin America, says Alvaro Posada-Salazar, Latin America director for the Humane Society International.

The makeshift pit where Dino and Argus fought draws dozens of fans every weekend. The pit isn't much more than a sand box surrounded by bleachers, and sits behind the house of Tono "The Baker," who asks that his full name not be used.

"These dogs were born to fight, and anybody who doesn't like that should buy a cocker spaniel," he says. "Everybody here loves their dogs, and nobody will let them get seriously hurt. I swear."

Most of the crowd are in their 20s, and come from the poorest neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. There is an entrance fee of 50 cents. "It's for keeping up the place," Tono says.

No betting is allowed, he adds. "Betting is for the rich, and all of us here are poor."

Posada-Salazar is highly skeptical of that claim, saying betting is an integral part of dog fighting, and he adds that the dogs always get hurt - and often get killed.

"Nobody is going to raise an animal - which costs money - train it - which costs money - and let it die in a fight without the possibility of making some money," he says. "Especially poor people.

"It's a big lie that they don't bet, and it's another big lie that the animals don't get hurt."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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