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Friday, January 27, 2012

Michigan Launches Full-Scale Campaign Against Animal Fighting

A trio of bills before the Michigan Legislature takes full-scale aim at dogfighting and cockfighting in creative and meaningful ways that could serve as a model for other states. These bills have passed the Michigan Senate as well as the House Judiciary Committee and now await a House floor vote before going to Governor Rick Snyder for his consideration.

First, S.B. 356 would allow for the seizure of property and other assets purchased with profits gained from animal fighting. Second, S.B. 357 would define any property used to house an animal fighting operation as a public nuisance. And finally, S.B. 358 would include animal fighting in the state’s racketeering laws, reflecting a growing recognition that dogfighting and cockfighting rings are organized crime. While mafia-owned illegal casinos use slot machines as gambling devices, illegal cockfighters and dogfighters use live animals who are often fought to their bloody deaths.

Animal fightingIncluding animal fighting under a state’s organized crime law is a reasonable policy approach when you consider the extensive, multi-state underground networks involved in these cruel trades. The elaborate security measures employed to avoid detection by law enforcement, the massive amounts of money gambled, breeding operations, underground magazines and transport services used to move dogs between kennels are all part of the animal fighting underworld.

Like any underground crime, dogfighting and cockfighting only thrive because people spend money on it. These individuals don’t walk into a bar on Main Street and accidentally stumble across a dogfight. They knowingly seek out the criminal activity at clandestine locations, and they often whisper secret passwords to enter. They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. And they provide cover for dogfighters and cockfighters, who blend into crowds at the first sign of a police raid to evade prosecution. For enforcement actions to be complete, we need to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in the enterprise.

What’s more, the link between animal fighting and other dangerous crimes is well-established. A study by the Chicago Police Department in 2004 revealed “a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” The study also concluded: 70 percent of those arrested for animal cruelty, including dogfighting, over a four-year period in Chicago had also been arrested for other felonies; 65 percent had past arrests for battery and 70 percent had been arrested for illegal narcotics.

A dogfighting raid in Monroe County, Michigan, a year ago underscored these statistics. The high-stakes dogfight attracted individuals from Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. Authorities seized more than $40,000 in cash, as well as firearms, cocaine and other drugs.  Several dogs, victims of injuries sustained in the fights, were already dead when law enforcement arrived on the scene.

This should give pause to anyone concerned about public safety and animal welfare. Taking animal fighters off the streets will help to curtail other violent crimes and make our communities safer for all—human and animal.

The bills before the Michigan Legislature are moving forward thanks to the leadership and work of three Michigan senators. Senators Rick Jones (R-24), Bert Johnson (D-2) and Steve Bieda (D-9) are championing this effort to save animals from cruelty and death in fighting pits.

Our friends at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Animal Protection Unit and the Michigan Humane Society initiated and support these bills, and a handful of other states have attempted similar concepts. Creative thinking, fresh ideas and dogged pursuit of sound and effective policies will get us one step closer to eradicating the cruel enterprise of animal fighting once and for all—a day that cannot come soon enough.

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