Organized Dog Fighting

Dog fighting can result in a felony charge in almost every state.

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Organized dog fighting is now a felony in almost all states. Federal law also punishes dog fighting, if the dog was moved across state lines to fight, with a year in prison and fines up to $5,000. (7 U.S.C. § 2156.) Despite the stiffening of these laws, dog fights continue. And it's not just amateurs enjoying an ancient "sport," as shown by the well-publicized case of Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick. Vick pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from a well-financed, large dogfighting operation run from property he owned, and went to prison. (Many of the dogs, to the surprise of almost everyone, have been rehabilitated and placed with families. See "What to Do If You Suspect Mistreatment of a Dog.")

Putting a dog in the ring to fight is not the only conduct these laws punish. Most dog fighting laws make it illegal to watch, bet on, or train dogs for dog fights. New York's statute is typical. It makes it a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both, to:

  • cause an animal to fight
  • train an animal under circumstances showing an intent to have the dog fight
  • let an animal fight, or be trained to fight, on premises under one's control, or
  • own or keep an animal trained to fight on premises used for fighting.

It's a misdemeanor, punishable by a year's imprisonment and stiff fine, to own or keep a dog under circumstances showing an intent to have the dog fight. Paying an admission fee or making a bet at a dog fight is another misdemeanor. (N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 351.)

Convictions for dog fighting offenses are still infrequent. But arrests are made: at a backwoods site in Louisiana, at a dog fight in upper Manhattan, and so on. A Texas man was convicted of felony dog fighting after his neighbor looked out his window after midnight one night and saw 18 to 20 men egging on pit bulls in a back yard, illuminated by car headlights. (Mitchell v. State, No. 11-09-00097-CR, Ct. App. Tex,. Sept. 2, 2010.)

Law enforcement officials depend on citizens to help them find and break up illicit dog fights. Veterinarians are also being pressed into service. Laws in Arizona and California, for example, require vets to tell local law enforcement about any dog injuries or deaths they think were inflicted in a dog fight. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 32-2239; Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 4830.5.)

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