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August 06, 2007

Plan of Attack Against Dogfighting

Brindle fighting pit bull chained in yard
© The HSUS

Last week, the contract shillers at the Center for Consumer Freedom—which has never known a form of animal abuse it will not directly or indirectly defend—attacked The Humane Society of the United States for our fundraising and program work against dogfighting. We know we are under CCF's skin when it attacks us, and it's an excellent indicator that we should keep on doing what we are doing, since one of the group's sole purposes is to thwart the work of animal protection organizations. And there is no group that CCF fears more than The HSUS because of our mainstream reputation, our resources, and our commitment to effectiveness and achieving tangible results.

Our anti-animal fighting campaign has always had a broader focus than any individual dogfighting enthusiast. The indictment of Michael Vick and his co-defendants is just a symptom of the larger problem in society. There are tens of thousands of people involved in this sordid and sickening industry, and eradication of the entire industry is our goal. The HSUS has invested in cracking down on this industry for decades and at no point have we put more resources into the battle than in the last ten years. Now, thanks to an American public awakening to this problem, we see public support building for our position and we plan on stepping up our campaign in a major way. I want to take a moment to lay out some of our plans.

  • First, we are now officially doubling our financial reward—from $2,500 to $5,000—for information leading to the arrest of any person involved animal fighting. We want to provide financial incentives for people who turn in animal fighters, and this reward program will add eyes and ears to report these animal abusers in every community in the country. We'd be pleased to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rewards. So let the calls come in, and we will work with law enforcement nationwide.
  • The HSUS is conducting a pilot research project in Chicago to understand the factors that are contributing to "street fighting" in that city. With this research, we will conduct social marketing activities designed to reach young people in urban communities and attempt to inoculate them against any interest in the virus of animal fighting. This is a long-neglected area in the campaign against dogfighting, and we have to be able to identify and interrupt the cultural cues that induce people to fight animals.
  • We need to do something proactive to address the crisis in America with pit bull abuse and overpopulation and the cruelty and neglect they suffer. The HSUS opposes breed bans as unworkable and as unfair to people who have well-socialized, well-behaved pit bulls. But we do favor local ordinances to spay and neuter pit bulls, as a way to curb the overpopulation and crack down on dogfighters and others who have the dogs for the wrong reasons. We plan to push these ordinances aggressively throughout the country. Often, these people do not want to sterilize the animals, and they are contributing to the abuse and overpopulation problem. Nationally about one-third of the dogs entering animal shelters are pit bulls, and in some locales up to 70 percent of all shelter dogs are pit bulls. Being against breed bans and combating dogfighting is not enough. We must do more to give extra protections to pit bulls.
  • We are going to continue our methodical efforts to upgrade state laws against fighting. We will continue our efforts in Idaho and Wyoming—the only two states that treat dogfighting as a misdemeanor—to have them adopt felony-level penalties for dogfighting. We will also continue to press state lawmakers to advocate for a ban on training, breeding or possessing fighting animals and advocate felony-level penalties for any of those activities. In addition, we are advocating for felony-level penalties for being a spectator at a dogfight. And we want bonding provisions that require alleged dogfighters to pay the costs of sheltering the dogs during the pre-trial phase of the prosecution, since these costs can be an enormous financial drain on local animal shelters. This HSUS chart summarizes all of the dogfighting laws and thereby shows where we need to fill in gaps.
  • We are already at work on new federal legislation to upgrade the federal animal fighting law (earlier this year, we shepherded to passage an upgrade making it a felony to move any fighting animal in interstate or foreign commerce). Three new bills—S. 1880, H.R. 3219 and H.R. 3327—would increase the maximum jail time for violations of the dogfighting prohibitions from three years to five years, would make it a crime to engage in dogfighting regardless of whether state lines were crossed, and would make it a felony to be a spectator at a dogfight. One of those bills, H.R. 3327, would establish a citizen suit provision to allow for stronger enforcement of the federal anti-animal fighting law. We are also working to see that dogfighting is a focus of attention for federal anti-gang activities.
  • Strong laws are only good if they are enforced, so we will continue our efforts to train thousands of law enforcement personnel in investigating illegal animal fighting activities. We are also working with law enforcement to make animal fighting investigations a higher priority. We have already seen the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General and local police agencies really step up their enforcement work. And we will work to see that they have adequate funding.
  • Our undercover investigations and intelligence gathering help lead to the arrest of countless animal fighters every year. We will be putting more people into the field to penetrate these organized crime rings and bring these people to justice.

In short, The HSUS is going to hit the animal fighters from every angle. We have a zero tolerance policy for the activity, and we will not relent until the industry is driven from every hideout.

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