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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

See No Evil: Dogfighting Spectator Law Already Making a Difference

I’m pleased to report that the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which we worked with Congress to enact last year, is now having a tangible impact in the field and helping to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting. This week, eight people were convicted under federal law for attending a dogfight in Akron, Ohio.

Pit_hslf_blog
The HSUS

Last November, police raided what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called a nationwide dogfighting ring. Forty-seven people were arrested. Ten were charged in federal court, and the rest are being prosecuted in state court.

The spectators who had crossed state lines to attend the match were charged federally, along with the two chief organizers of the fights that were held that night.

Eight dogs were seized in the raid, including two who were already bloodied and were fighting in a 16-by-16-foot pit when law enforcement descended on the property.

Animal fighting routinely goes hand in hand with other crimes, and this was no exception. Narcotics and $52,000 in gambling cash were confiscated. One convicted felon was charged with being in possession of a firearm.This was a highly organized operation, and fight organizers even sold concessions and dogfighting paraphernalia to attendees.

These latest convictions show that while much of our work involves passing laws to protect animals, it’s equally important that those laws be properly enforced. Thanks to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, it’s now a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.

This was the fourth upgrade of the federal animal fighting statute since 2002, as we’ve worked to close gaps in the legal framework and strengthen the penalties for dogfights and cockfights.

With the FBI now tracking animal cruelty crimes in the Uniform Crime Reporting database, and agencies like the National Sheriffs’ Association speaking out forcefully against animal cruelty, we should see more enforcement of all animal cruelty laws. Animal fighting crimes are particularly well suited for federal prosecution because animal fighting almost always involves interstate activity.

In another high-profile example, federal investigators closed down a major cockfighting pit in Pikeville, Kentucky, last year and found that participants in that operation came from dozens of states.

Those out of state attendees even included members of organized criminal gangs like the Mexican Mafia. The evidence is clear. Animal fighting is a lose-lose endeavor for the animals as well as for the communities where the crimes are staged.

It also demonstrates why strong federal and state laws are both needed and complementary in the effort to crack down on animal fighting. Sometimes the fights are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and participants might be charged under federal law, or state law, or both. We are grateful to the lawmakers who helped shepherd through this new spectator animal fighting provision in the last Congress, thus providing one more important tool for law enforcement.

Of course, much more needs to be done across the country. The Tennessee House of Representatives may vote this week on a bill that would strengthen the state’s animal fighting law. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has written to every member of the Tennessee House, urging them to support efforts to stiffen the penalties for animal fighting.

It’s far too early to declare victory over dogfighting and cockfighting. Some states maintain absurdly low penalties for cockfighting. And dogfighting is still pervasive in some quarters—just two weeks ago Montana lawmakers rejected an effort to criminalize being a spectator at a dogfight.

But we can take heart in the fact that animal fighting laws are getting tougher, law enforcement is paying attention, and a growing chorus of voices is saying that this cruelty must end.

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