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Friday, January 18, 2008

Spectators at Dogfights are Criminals, Too

Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. have begun their 2008 legislative sessions, and eight legislatures will convene later this year.  One animal issue is already hot on the agenda, and we can thank Michael Vick.  The Humane Society Legislative Fund expects 25 states to tackle legislation to crack down on animal fighting this year, and Congress is also working to upgrade the federal anti-dogfighting law.

While there are various deficiencies in current dogfighting statutes, one particular problem has drawn fire.  In four states—Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, and Montana—it’s still legal to be a spectator at a dogfight.  In 19 states attending a dogfight is a felony offense, and in 27 states it’s only a misdemeanor, punishable in some cases by just a $50 fine and no jail time. 

From Georgia to Iowa to Missouri, lawmakers across the country are now working to close this gaping loophole, and take a bite out of those bloodthirsty psychopaths who fuel this criminal industry.  The Oregonian this week endorsed Senate President Peter Courtney’s felony spectator bill (S.B. 1072), noting that “police who raid a dogfight have an extremely difficult time figuring out who should be charged with felony violations and who should be charged with misdemeanors. That’s the case because every violator at the bust claims to be there as a spectator.”

Dogfighting But some folks still don’t get it.  At a hearing this week on Maryland’s S.B. 44 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, several legislators expressed skepticism at the idea of making dogfighting attendance a felony.  They agreed, of course, that dogfighting is a terrible crime, but didn’t seem to think that simply watching a dogfight should be met with tough penalties.

Like any underground crime, dogfighting only thrives because people spend money on it.  And these individuals don’t walk into a bar on Main Street and accidentally stumble across a dogfight.  They seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, and they often need 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, who blend into crowds for a slap on the wrist at the first sign of a police raid.

Dogfighting spectators are not innocent bystanders—they are willing participants in organized crime who are there for their own amusement and gambling profits and because they are titillated by the bloodletting.  Take away the spectators and you take away the profit.  Our laws should be tough enough to stop people from financing the torture of dogs.

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