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Michigan legislature attempting to strengthen animal fighting laws
Friday, November 30, 2012 7:32 PM EST
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Special to The Oakland Press
The state Legislature is working to enact three changes to animal fighting statutes in order to provide for tougher penalties for offenders.
It’s already illegal to fight animals against each other or to gain proceeds from activity relating to the practice of animal fighting, under section 750.49 of the Michigan Penal Code, originally passed in 1931.
In particular, dogs and male roosters are often fought for sport.
The first measure, Senate Bill 356 introduced by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would allow law enforcement agencies to seize profits gained from animal fighting. Proceeds would go to local government or the state.
Senate Bill 358, introduced by Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, makes animal fighting prosecutable under the state’s racketeering statute allowing for tougher penalties.
Bieda said putting animal fighting in with the RICO, an organized crime statute, makes sense because of all the other crime associated with the practice.
“A lot of these dogfighting operations are fairly sophisticated illegal activities,” he said. “There’s a number of other illegal activities, illegal gambling, drugs (and) sometimes even prostitution involved.”
These bills have been approved by both chambers of the Michigan legislature and await the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder.
A third potential change comes from House Bill 5789, sponsored by Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township, which would allow a county or private attorney to sue anyone using their property for illegal animal fighting activities.
Pam Porteous, who manages Animal Care Network in Pontiac, said that dogfighting is definitely a problem in the area.
“We see a lot of animals that are pretty scarred up and ripped up and bloody,” Porteous said.
Although she said a lot of the animals found in this area actually fought in Detroit or Flint, there are some streetfighting operations in Pontiac.
“I think that there’s a lot of street dogfighting in Pontiac where people will go into abandoned houses or basements or garages of vacant houses and do their fighting there at night or on the weekend,” she said.
Kevin Hatman, public relations coordinator at the Michigan Humane Society, who testified on behalf of the legislation, said that dogfighting is big business.
“Tens of thousands of dollars can actually change hands betting on a dogfight,” he said. “When dogfighting moves into an area, we see drugs move in, we see violence move in.”
Porteous said this is consistent with her experience with dogs in high crime areas.
“I just think where (there are) high crime areas, everybody’s got a pit bull,” she said. “It happens in the more poverty-stricken areas.”
Current penalties for dogfighting include fines, loss of pet ownership, community service and up to four years in prison.
Hatman said the inclusion of dogfighting under RICO law would allow for the pursuit of tougher penalties for those involved in organized rings.
“It’s also going to allow law enforcement agencies to seize and forfeit property that’s associated with dogfighting,” he said.
Porteous said dogs that have been fought often have scarring on their faces, necks, and front legs.
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