Horror inside Queensland dog fighting farm
WARNING: GRAPHIC. CONTENT MAY DISTRESS
IN BACKYARDS across the state, criminals are turning to dog breeding for untraceable, undeclared income, using on-trend puppy breeds as a lucrative cash cow to fund their dog-fighting ventures.
The animal welfare industry is concerned that Queensland families could be unwittingly duped into spending thousands of dollars on expensive breeds that have been raised to bankroll illegal activities.
Shockingly, at least one Queensland puppy farmer has openly admitted to the practice.
French bulldog "breeder" Haris Ljuhar, 41, sold dogs online through Facebook and Gumtree, advertising some in the Ipswich area for up to $10,000 each.
Posing on the front page of US dog-fighting magazine Sports Dog Journal in April 2012, he was candid about how his business worked.
"The operation is on approximately 3000 hectares that we own and is funded by the breeding and sale of French bulldogs and mastiff breeds," he told the magazine.
"These cur breeds fetch top dollar as pups and without them, we would struggle to survive … don't think laws can be the end for dogmen. Dogmen are dogmen for life and will find a way."
RSPCA Queensland investigator Dan Young spent 10 years tracking Ljuhar's movements across the state's south as he moved from property to property racking up numerous animal cruelty complaints, as well as a criminal history.
"He was breeding French bulldogs for the purpose of funding dog fighting, and they bring in a lot of money. People will pay crazy money for them," Mr Young said.
In a bid to crack down on rogue sellers, new laws were introduced by the Queensland Government last month outlining minimum welfare conditions for breeding dogs.
It follows changes last year that made it a legal requirement for anyone who bred a litter of puppies - even if their pet became pregnant unintentionally - to register as a breeder. So far, more than 18,000 breeders have registered online.
Over the years, authorities conducted three major raids at properties owned or run by Ljuhar, including at Willowbank in 2015 and Kogan in 2007. In the latter, about 40 pitbulls were seized by an organisation separate to the RSPCA but were eventually returned.
"These dogs, in my opinion, were bred for nothing more than fighting," Mr Young said. By the time the pair next crossed paths, those dogs had vanished.
In January 2017, Mr Young was tipped off by workers about another animal cruelty case at a remote property in the Goondiwindi region, where it was clear that Ljuhar had returned to puppy farming.
Police had jumped on illegal weapons at the Glenarbon property, prompting the RSPCA to rescue almost 100 dogs and cats.
"The amount of animals he had, and the type of animals he had, he had the opportunity to bring in significant money, ridiculous amounts of money," Mr Young said.
Inside a rundown house, French bulldogs worth thousands of dollars were among those locked in stifling hot rooms piled with faeces, with water so putrid it had curdled.
In photos obtained by The Courier-Mail, animals can be seen chained up next to dead kennelmates, left to rot both inside and outside the home, some used as feed for the surviving dogs.
Mostly French, American and Australian bulldogs of all ages were rescued, and Ljuhar faced the most animal neglect charges ever pinned on an individual in Queensland - 215 in total.
"The property smelt like death, and the dwelling looked like a torture house, with a room boarded up with peepholes cut in," Mr Young said. "The dogs couldn't get out, food would be thrown in. If you wanted to get in, you had to climb over the top."
Authorities had hoped to have Ljuhar banned from ever owning another animal, but he died from illness before the case could be heard and was never brought to justice.
"It was frustrating, personally and professionally," Mr Young admits.
The Smith family took in then-four-year-old American bulldog Boss after he was seized during the Willowbank raid in 2015.
"He was quite distant when I got him. He missed out on the whole puppy stage. He doesn't know how to play, he doesn't fetch balls; he's never had that playtime," Mr Smith said.
"Making a difference to his life is rewarding. He's a beautiful dog with a good nature and he deserves to be looked after and have a dry bed."
With his ears illegally chopped off for aesthetics, Boss had a highly desirable bloodline to "certain people" before he was desexed as part of the RSPCA's adoption procedure.
Mr Smith still worries about Boss's safety, with concerns he could be stolen by dog fighters.
Two years on, Boss is among those animals lucky to have survived.
Animal welfare reports about a dog breeder or the welfare of a dog can also be lodged on the Queensland Dog Breeder Register at qdbr.daf.qld.gov.au