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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Attorneys General on the March to Stamp Out Cruelty

It has been a theme on this blog that passing good laws is not enough. We need aggressive enforcement of those laws, which requires adequate funding, training, and public awareness.

That’s why it’s so heartening that there has been a major uptick in the enforcement of animal protection laws in the past year—especially since the Michael Vick case brought national attention to the dogfighting rings that plague our communities. Now the nation’s top law enforcement officials from coast to coast are cracking down on organized animal fighting activities.

Pit_bull2_2 At a press conference today, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers announced a new hotline for residents to report tips on dogfighting and cockfighting, in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States. The state’s top prosecutor was joined at the press conference by HSUS West Coast Regional Director Eric Sakach, and by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who sponsored and successfully passed legislation this year making it a felony to attend a dogfight.

In fact, the Attorneys General from Oregon and ten other states—Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia—have teamed up with animal protection groups to combat animal cruelty and fighting. Most of them have held press conferences with The HSUS to bring heightened attention to the organization's new $5,000 Animal Fighting Reward program. Additionally, the Los Angeles District Attorney, the Chicago Police Department, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, and U.S. Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.) have helped to promote the innovative program in their communities.

The rewards program, which doles out up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of dogfighters or cockfighters, has been a resounding success, with public participation helping to shut down animal fighting operations occurring anywhere from rural orchards to inner city alleys. To date, 16 rewards have been paid out to tipsters, with several other cases under investigation and still pending.

As the ears and eyes of the community, the public’s input in reporting animal cruelty has been absolutely essential, and it has been facilitated by the dedication of law enforcement in getting the word out.

In Los Angeles, where pit bull fighting is part and parcel of urban crime, District Attorney Steve Cooley told reporters, “Animal fighting not only promotes the mistreatment and killing of animals, it also makes communities vulnerable to byproduct crimes such as illegal gambling, assault, drugs and weapons. It is also widely recognized that those who abuse animals are more likely to engage in violence against humans."   

Winston On the opposite coast in Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum spoke at a press conference last month with rescued pit bull Winston at his side. “Animal fighting is a violent crime that at times is associated with illegal gangs, drugs, firearms and gambling, and I am pleased to announce this reward program as an important combative tool,” said McCollum. “Florida will have no tolerance for people who abuse animals for entertainment.”

The day after McCollum's and Winston’s widely-covered press appearances, a promising tip on a high-profile dogfighter came into the hotline.

Many of the Attorneys General have gone the extra mile, recognizing the connectedness between animal cruelty and other important issues, such as combating violent crime and protecting consumers from fraud. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, for example, established a statewide animal cruelty taskforce and recorded a public service announcement for radio denouncing animal fighting and promoting the rewards program. He also wrote to Amazon.com urging the company to cease the sale, advertisement, and distribution of illegal cockfighting magazines. For his longtime animal advocacy, he was recognized as the Humane Law Enforcement Official of the Year.

McMaster and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are leading a bipartisan group of Attorneys General around the country who are partnering with The HSUS to stop animal cruelty. The two leaders formed an ad hoc committee on animal cruelty and fighting within the National Association of Attorneys General, and gave a joint presentation on animal fighting at the association’s recent conference.

Cockfighting_2 Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell lobbied for tougher laws in his state and made felony cockfighting legislation part of his anti-crime agenda for the 2008 legislative session. “Animal fighting has no place in Virginia. Our legislation will help put a stop to this brutal practice and will increase penalties for those who engage in it,” said McDonnell. “Our legislation will make it illegal for anyone to attend an animal fight. Those who create the demand for such fights are just as guilty as those who put on the fight. All who play any role in animal fighting in Virginia must be punished to stop this barbaric practice.”  The bill passed, and Virginia went from having one of the nation’s weakest anti-cockfighting statutes to one of the strongest.

The support of these law enforcement leaders in not only passing laws but also implementing them is helping to end the suffering of animals in dogfighting and cockfighting rings around the country. We are grateful that Attorneys General are treating animal cruelty with the gravity that it deserves and sending a signal to those who engage in these barbaric practices that they will be held accountable.

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