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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Stamping Out Animal Fighting Benefactors

Among the most important animal protection laws passed by Congress over the last few years have been those to crack down on dogfighting and cockfighting, closing loopholes on commerce in fighting birds and weapons attached to them, upgrading the penalties for all animal fighting to a felony offense, and barring the possession and training of fighting animals. There is near-consensus in our nation that animal fighting is a reprehensible and immoral activity which serves no legitimate social purpose, and The HSUS and HSLF have launched a full-scale attack to stamp out this organized cruelty to dogs and birds and the other crimes and social ills that accompany it.

Dog_pit_bull_blk_wht_270x224A new bill introduced this week in the U.S. Senate will help close a remaining gap in the law and bring us one step closer to eliminating dogfighting and cockfighting, a day that cannot come soon enough. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, S. 1947, introduced by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., would prohibit knowing attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for causing a minor to attend such events. While 49 states (all but Montana) make it a crime to attend an animal fight, with 28 having felony penalties for spectators, there is currently no federal prohibition to address the people who make this criminal enterprise thrive with their admission fees and gambling wagers and who expose young children to the violence and bloodletting. A House version of the bill, H.R. 2492, was introduced in July by U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, and already has 130 cosponsors. More than 90 law enforcement agencies from 32 states have endorsed the legislation.

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.

While all the states have laws against dogfighting and cockfighting, the nature of the industry has changed, and now a substantial share of fights involves interstate transport of the animals and parties from multiple states. Local authorities do not have the reach or the resources to go into other states to carry on an investigation. When an animal fighting ring involves players from several states, a sheriff’s department simply does not have the ability to root out the entire operation. Such animal fighting cases are a federal matter requiring a strong federal law that will close all loopholes. There are also times when the county sheriffs or prosecutors are not taking action (due to corruption or lack of interest) and it’s necessary for the feds to get involved.

If a federal prosecution is made, we want to have a comprehensive application of the law and see that everyone involved is brought to justice. That will have a greater effect in terms of ending animal fighting and also mean a bigger bang for the buck in terms of the federal investment, while federal agents are already on the scene. Why spend the time and resources to bust a dogfighting ring, and just arrest the couple people who were handling the dogs, rather than the hundreds who were actively engaged on the scene as their benefactors? Federal law enforcement must have the needed tools—as state law enforcement already has in 49 states—to take action against those who are fueling the industry with their blood money of admission fees and high-stakes gambling, and to make sure that they and the perpetrators who blend into the crowd when the feds arrive don’t get off scot-free.
Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill and crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting. The 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 animals.

Please contact your U.S. senators and U.S. representative today and ask them to join as cosponsors of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. If they’re already cosponsoring this legislation, let them know how much you appreciate their support.


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