THE ULSTER Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) has urged the public to be vigilant against badger-baiting after a man was arrested and a badly injured dog rescued near Banbridge, Co Down.

David Wilson of the USPCA said the severe facial injuries to the dog, a Patterdale terrier, were consistent with the animal having been involved in a fight with a badger.

The man (58) was arrested by PSNI officers co-operating with USPCA inspectors on Wednesday night. It was part of a UK-wide crackdown on badger baiting called Operation Meles.

The terrier was rescued from a house in Gilford near Banbridge. A vehicle was also seized. The man was released yesterday “pending further inquiries”.

A senior police officer said: “I have investigated a number of animal cruelty cases and the injuries sustained by this dog are some of the worst I have seen.”

In follow-up searches on nearby premises yesterday morning, four similar terrier-type dogs were recovered and taken into the care of the USPCA. Several implements, such as long-handle spades suitable for digging up badger setts and boxes to hold badgers, were also seized.

Badger-baiting involves setting dogs against badgers. It often involves betting, while breeding and selling the terriers is also a business.

Mr Wilson said the seizures in Co Down were part of an intelligence-led operation. Throughout the island, he added, it was estimated that badger baiting was “costing the lives of thousands of Irish badgers” each year.

He said those involved did not go near the badgers in the summer when they were breeding but that this was the season for digging them out of setts to prepare them for organised badger-baiting at “very secret venues”.

Mr Wilson asked for people, particularly farmers and others living in rural areas, to be watchful for people who might be involved in “this medieval pastime”.

There was particular suspicious activity to look out for. “You are looking for a van or a vehicle with trailers; you are looking for dogs; you are looking for guys carrying long-handled spades.”

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