Members of a dog-fighting ring today admitted starving bull terriers to make them more bloodthirsty.
Two women and two men are accused of chaining dogs to treadmills – often in complete darkness – and forcing them to run for hours to lose weight.
The dogs were kept in squalid conditions and were so starved of food that one ate its collar to satisfy the hunger pangs, while another ate its own faeces.
Once fighting fit, the dogs were forced into brutal bouts watched by baying punters which could last for up to 40 minutes and often resulted in permanent deformities or death.
Today the four defendants pleaded guilty to a string of animal cruelty and dog fighting charges at Swindon Magistrates Court.
Ian Draper, 47, and his son Danny Draper, 25, admitted keeping six dogs in terrible conditions and using them for fighting.
Katy Davies, 33, admitted aiding and abetting her partner Ian Draper and Danny’s girlfriend Laura Hornsby, 24, admitted causing unnecessary suffering.
Defendants: Both Danny Draper and his father Ian have pleaded guilty to multiple charges of animal cruelty
All four hail from the Cotswolds, a prosperous and genteel area of the country where David Cameron’s constituency is located.
Iain O’Donnell, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the animals were rescued from their pitiful existence following a tip-off to a vet in Burford.
He said: ‘The nature of the charges against Ian and Danny Draper speak for themselves.
‘They operate in dog fighting. They force dogs to lose weight in the lead up to fights and leave them chained to treadmills out of light in dark sheds.
‘When they fight they are taken to pits, surrounded by people baying them to attack each other, a terrifying experience to be brought into.’
RSPCA officers provided 1,500 pages of evidence on the offences, which date from December 2009 to April 2010.
Treadmill: The dogs were chained to exercise machines and forced to run for hours
The animals were discovered when Ian Draper’s ex-wife Sharon took a painfully thin terrier to the practice to be treated after she had swallowed her own collar in her desperation for food.
Subsequent searches of the Drapers’ homes unearthed the treadmills, some of which were housed in dark sheds.
Officials also found a break-stick with several teeth marks used to wedge into the jaws of fighting dogs to separate them.
The dogs were often trained to attack previous wounds, or the neck and face, commonly resulting in the animals’ lips being ripped off, the court was told.
Danny Draper pleaded guilty to five charges including possession of items in connection with an animal fight, while his father pleaded guilty to seven charges.
Ian Draper was given a three-month custodial sentence in 2006 for similar offences, and was serving a ten-year ban on keeping animals at the time of the offences.
Davies and Hornsby have also pleaded guilty in relation to the incident.
The two-day sentencing hearing continues tomorrow.