Laws that target animal cruelty work. And by doing so, they lessen crime.
Since my Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act was signed into law in 2007, 11 of 12 magazines that promote dog fighting have ceased publication. According to the Humane Society of the United States, sales of animal-fighting paraphernalia have fallen by 50 percent.
My law makes violations of federal animal fighting laws a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, makes it a felony to transport an animal across state or international borders for the purpose of animal fighting and prohibits the interstate and foreign commerce of knives and gaffs designed for use in cockfighting.
Had my law been in effect when NFL quarterback Michael Vick was arrested for running a dog-fighting operation, he most likely would have received more than a 23-month prison sentence.
Cracking down on animal fighting is important not just because pitting dogs or other animals against each other to fight to the death is cruel in and of itself — those who have no compassion for the pain they inflict on animals also tend to lack compassion for their fellow humans. Gang activity, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and acts of human violence all go hand-in-hand with animal cruelty. It is barbarism and desensitizes those who participate in it to the pain and suffering of others.
A three-year study conducted by criminologist Jack Levin concluded that animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violence against humans. The FBI, Department of Education and Department of Justice consider animal cruelty to be one of the early warning signs of potential violence by youths. And a Chicago Police Department study showed that 65 percent of people charged with animal abuse crimes were also charged with violent crimes against people.
The business of animal cruelty is reprehensible. In order to foster the viciousness of dogs, trainers bait them with puppies, cats and other small animals. Smaller dogs are often cut or stabbed and tossed in with the larger fighting dogs. These dogs, having been beaten and deprived, maul the smaller animals to death.
Many of these “bait” animals are pets stolen from unsuspecting families. According to published reports, many bait animals have their snouts wrapped in duct tape to keep them from biting the fighting dog, or have their teeth ground down to their gums. They don’t normally survive the training.
In addition to the horror of losing a pet, children often witness these cruel spectacles when adults bring their children to fights as a form of initiation.
A 2005 Michigan State University College of Law study found that “even seasoned law enforcement agents are consistently appalled by the atrocities that they encounter before, during, and after dog fights, yet the children in those communities are routinely exposed to the unfathomable violence that is inherent within the blood sport and become conditioned to believe that the violence is normal. Those children are systematically desensitized to the suffering, and ultimately become criminalized.”
In response, many communities, including Chicago and Los Angeles, have created dog-fighting task forces to unearth not only animal cruelty, but also the gambling, drugs and other crimes that are endemic to dog-fighting rings.
My Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act supports those efforts. I and other members of Congress will continue to support the task forces and provide law enforcement authorities with the tools needed to crack down on animal cruelty. Dog fighting is a vicious crime — it goes hand-in-hand with other crimes and it hurts innocent children — and it needs to be treated as such.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) is co-chairman of the Animal Protection Caucus and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee.