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Sam Poling

Organised crime is moving into the lucrative market of extreme dog breeding, a BBC investigation has found.

Bulldogs, including the new American Bully breed, are being bred with hugely exaggerated characteristics – such as excessive skin folds or large, muscular frames.

The RSPCA warns criminals are breeding and selling these dogs to launder money and make huge sums, often at the expense of animal welfare.

Reporter Sam Poling went undercover to investigate the extreme dog breeding trade.

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I’m shocked when my phone pings with a message from the Facebook account of Thomas Rayment – a convicted county lines drug dealer I know to be in prison.

“Hi. Is it a male or female you are wanting. We have some pups available.”

For months, I’d been using a false name, pretending to be bulldog-loving businessman Stefan Delaney, hanging out in Facebook groups dedicated to bulldogs and American bullies.

My goal was to find out who the main players were in the world of extreme dog breeding.

Now it looked like it was beginning to pay off.

Rayment has been in prison since 2021, serving six years for running a prolific county lines drugs gang, supplying heroin and crack cocaine to the north of England.

But could he really be brokering dog deals from behind bars?

Graphic: Messages about buying dogs

Rayment claims to run the UK arm of a big international dog breeding business called Muscletone Bullys UK. He’s frequently tagged in posts by other prominent figures in the American Bully network.

From his Facebook account I’m sent photos of two extreme American bullies – Brandon Blockhead and Kleo – who have just had a litter of puppies.

“This boned-up Gorilla is no joke he’s extreme as they come,” reads the description of Brandon Blockhead on Rayment’s website. He has “one of the best headpieces we have ever seen all on a super short compact frame”.

The tops of his ears have been cut off – an illegal practice in the UK called ear cropping.

The penalty for doing this can be up to five years in prison for causing suffering to an animal. It’s a practice I see time and time again during my months of investigating.

BBC iPlayer

Reporter Sam Poling goes undercover to reveal the increasingly close relationship between organised crime and dog dealing.

BBC iPlayer

In the past three years, more than 1,000 incidents of illegal ear cropping have been reported to the RSPCA. Some dealers do the cropping themselves, without using anaesthetic on the dogs. Most cases involve American bullies.

This kind of extreme dog breeding is big business. On the Muscletone Bullys UK website, pups are on sale for tens of thousands of pounds.

After some back and forth with Rayment’s account, I finally receive the message to my fake Facebook profile that I’ve been desperately waiting for. My alter ego Stefan Delaney is invited to a meeting in Wigan to discuss a deal.

My plan is to pose as Stefan’s girlfriend and say he’s running late.

I arrive at the address. It’s a dog fertility clinic. A man lets me in and shows me around. He’s called Ryan Howard. He tells me he’s Rayment’s business partner.

I feign confusion about Rayment and that’s when Howard breaks the news.

“Tom’s not here because he’s in jail,” he tells me.

“I don’t tell everybody but you lot know who he is so I’m not going to lie to you. You have been speaking to Tommy.”

Ryan Howard

Howard tells me he has about 120 dogs in his business but he only looks after 15 of them.

The other dogs are housed through a network of what’s known as “co-owns”.

In a co-own, a dealer gets someone else to house the dog. That person then gets paid a percentage from the sale of any pups.

It means the dealer can have a massive network of dogs which they can continue to profit from without the authorities having any idea how many they have.

In a statement to the BBC, Muscletone Bullys UK said:

“We are well-known for breeding the highest quality extreme American bullies without compromising the dogs’ health or well-being. Thomas Rayment does not communicate with anyone illegally and has others running his socials. We do not condone or take part 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, a chief inspector with the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, says over the past five years organised crime gangs have become increasingly involved in the extreme dog breeding trade.

Clipped ear on a puppy

RSPCA

But what is the appeal of dog dealing to criminals? First, he says, it’s lucrative. Second, it’s useful for money laundering.

“It’s anything where illegal money has been obtained. So drugs, firearms, other organised crime.

“It can then be laundered through the sale of these dogs or vice versa.”

The legal risks are also far less serious. Muttitt explains that dealing drugs, for example, carries much higher penalties than animal cruelty offences.

I logout of Stefan Delaney’s fake Facebook profile one last time. It’s clear the network I’ve uncovered is not only huge, but sophisticated. That’s going to make cleaning up this trade very difficult for the authorities as profit-driven dealers continue to put wealth over health at all costs.

Panorama: Dogs, Dealers and Organised Crime is broadcast on BBC One on 23 January at 20:00 and on the iPlayer (UK only).

Source: BBC

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