Archived Story

Farm bill adds more teeth to dogfighting law

Published 6:50pm Friday, March 14, 2014

The Humane Society of the United States praised the inclusion of legislation to increase penalties for dogfighting in the federal Farm Bill passed last month.

HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said the “recent upgrades” to the federal animal-fighting law “means that the entire cast of characters involved in these criminal enterprises is subject to arrest and prosecution and these people face a brighter future if they give up their cruel hobby.”

Included in the 2014 Farm Bill was the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. It makes it a federal felony to knowingly bring a minor under the age of 16 to a dogfight or cockfight, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It also makes it a federal misdemeanor for an adult to knowingly attend an animal fight, with punishments up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

New Site Police Chief John McKelvey, who led a two-year investigation that led to six indictments of area residents on dog-fighting charges, said “it’s a wonderful new tool,” though he noted the state’s laws already made it a crime to be a willing spectator at an animal fight.

A federal law passed in 2008 made it a crime to sponsor, exhibit, buy, sell, deliver, possess, train or transport an animal for participation in an animal fighting venture. Pacelle said the federal laws on dogfighting have been upgraded four times since 2002.

U.S. Attorney George L. Beck of the Montgomery-based Middle District of Alabama said “animal fighting is a cruel activity, not a sport”

“No one should have to watch such brutality, but it is particularly outrageous to expose children to these fights because it desensitizes them  to violence and brutality,” Beck said.

McKelvey did some work on the landmark federal dogfighting case in August 2013 that led to the seizure of 367 dogs across Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Locations raided in that case came right up to the county’s borders, with some fighting locations raided in Lee and Chambers counties.

He said investigators considered presenting the New Site case to a federal grand jury, but found the state’s law against dogfighting to be “one of the stiffest law in the country.”

McKelvey said he wasn’t aware of any children being present for the fights put on at three locations in New Site and Alexander City. But federal law wasn’t needed as he investigated the local case.

“We looked at (taking the case federal), but with the (criminal) histories we were dealing with those people, we thought we’d wind up with better satisfaction in sentencing them here,” he said.

Most of the suspects indicted last month had previously served time on drug charges, and four were still on probation or in custody from prior convictions.

McKelvey said it’s hard to say how many fights were put on by the six men and women indicted in New Site ring, which centered around Thomas Road on the edge of Alexander City. Not many of the incidents Tallapoosa County law enforcement agencies investigated were “spectator-type events.”

“A lot of them were just spur-of-the-moment calls,” he said. “They’d get a call that morning and then have the fight the next day.”

Dog owners and spectators typically gamble on the fights, according to McKelvey and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the fights are often a venue for narcotics deals and distribution.

“Criminals also use these animal fights to sell drugs and hide illegal profits,” Beck said. “The enactment of this new law gives us additional law enforcement tools to crack down on this barbaric activity and the other crimes that go along with it.”