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In Afghanistan, it's dog-fight-dog world

Dmitry Solovyov / NBC News

The fight master at a dog fight outside of Kabul, Afghanistan during January 2012.

Reporter's Notebook

KABUL – Michael Vick would feel right at home here.

Just north of Kabul, on the edge of the mountains, around 1,000 people recently  gathered in the cold for a dog fight. The crowd was basically all men, of all ages, even babies, sharing in a tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years.
Dog fights are popular all over the country, and in some cases gambling is involved. In this particular case, we were told there was no gambling taking place, although I’m not sure that was true.
The dog fight is led by an old man, the fight master,  who stands with a stick. He rules the show and is very powerful and very confident. The crowds gather in a series of circles, and no one steps out of line. Only the dog owners and their dogs are allowed to enter the circle.

At the start of the fight, there is a green cloth between the dogs so they cannot see each other. The dogs are held by their owners without leashes. Then the cloth is dropped, and the dogs run towards each other and start the fight.

Dmitry Solovyov / NBC News

Some of the dogs were decorated at a recent dog fight outside of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Contrary to common belief, the goal is not for the dogs to kill one another. The winner is the dog that best controls the other – usually by holding on to the skin that surrounds the dogs’ necks – which is decided by the old man. And once he has made his pronouncement, the fighting stops immediately.
I know that the notion of dog-fighting is very controversial. I understand this view – I have had dogs, and love these animals. But at the same time, the dogs do not die and the owners do not want their animals to get hurt.

In fact, the dog owners are very protective of their animals. After all, owning a fighting dog is an expensive proposition for an Afghan. One dog owner told us that the prices for a fighting dog start at $500 and go as high as $10,000 – a lot of money anywhere, but particularly in Afghanistan.  The owners seemed to care for their dogs and treated them with respect.

Dmitry Solovyov / NBC News

Dogs fight outside of Kabul, Afghanistan on a Friday in January 2012.

That said, Afghans tend not to be concerned about cruelty to animals. Taking care of their fighting dogs is more about protecting a valuable asset.

After the fights were over, the elderly fight master told us that he has been going to fights since he was a 10-year-old, attending at first with his father. This is a part of Afghan tradition, a way of life and a bit of excitement on Fridays, the day of rest here.

NBC News’ Kiko Itasaka contributed to this report.