MuniLand

America’s blood sport

By Cate Long
December 4, 2012

Five years ago, NFL superstar Michael Vick admitted to running a dogfighting operation. Media accounts detailed the hanging, drowning, electrocution and shooting of dogs. Vick served less than two years in prison and has spent time since his prison release working with the Humane Society to speak out against dogfighting. Two months ago, Vick even got a dog for his family. Vick’s high profile case influenced how dogfighting is treated by the law, according to Rebecca Huss, the Guardian/Special Master in the Vick/Bad Newz Kennels Case:

The Vick case also influenced law by changing dog fighting penalties. Following the case, the maximum imprisonment time for violations of the Animal Welfare Act animal fighting prohibition increased from one to three years, pursuant to the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act. In 2008, the passage of the Food Conservation and Energy Act increased the maximum time for imprisonment for dog fighting ventures to five years. Furthermore, dog fighting became a felony in all fifty states in 2008, with Idaho and Wyoming being the last states to pass laws making it a felony.

Nevertheless, dogfighting persists across America. The cruel blood sport continues to leave a trail of violence and criminality across the country. According to stopdogfighting.net:

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are at least 40,000 dogfighters in America, though that number seems to underestimate the epidemic of street fighting in urban areas. In 2003, the city of Chicago alone recorded and responded to 1093 animal fighting complaints. Virtually all children in high crime urban areas are exposed to dogfighting in their own neighborhoods while American hip/hop culture glorifies the blood sport.

The Chicago Tribune also reports a high correlation between dogfighting and gang membership:

According to research conducted by Chicago police, about 60 percent of offenders who commit crimes against animals are self-admitted gang members. “(Dogfighting) is a telltale sign that there’s a lot more going on,” said Sgt. Mark George, who is with the Chicago Police Department’s Animal Crimes Unit. “RICO is a great tool to deal with this element that plagues the community … and combat gangs and drugs.”

There are often many criminal activities that weave together with dogfighting, according to stopdogfighting.net:

Dog fighters are violent criminals that engage in a whole host of peripheral criminal activities. Many are heavily involved in organized crime, racketeering, drug distribution, or gangs, and they arrange and attend the fights as a forum for gambling and drug trafficking. Within the last decade, enlightened law enforcement agencies and government officials have become cognizant of the clandestine culture of dog-fighting and its nexus with other crimes and community violence.

Last week, Michigan joined Illinois in extending its organized crime law to include dogfighting. The Michigan legislation is awaiting Governor Rick Snyder’s signature. From Press Unleashed:

Essentially, the bills will make the punishment for animal (dog) fighting in Michigan the most severe in the country, since it would view animal fighting as organized crime.

The bills would allow for seizure of property and other assets purchased with profits from animal fighting, define property used to house animal fighting as a public nuisance and would include animal fighting in the state’s racketeering laws.

The U.S. Congress has flirted with stricter dogfighting laws and was considering H.R. 2492, which would have amended the federal animal fighting law to include spectators at dogfights. This would allow for cases prosecuted in federal courts to include the entire cast of characters who participate in animal fighting events. The legislation has 227 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, but it has been sitting in committee since July, 2011.

Vick’s conviction brought America’s vicious blood sport to the nation’s attention. But the scourge of cruelty and violence persists. Kudo’s to Illinois and Michigan for their legislative efforts to broaden their law enforcement tools. Other states should take notice.

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