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Indiana Gets Tough on Dogfight Attendees

A bill that would make it a felony to attend a dog or other animal fighting contest in Indiana is gaining support with lawmakers in the Hoosier State.

The measure, introduced last November by State Senator Brent Steele, increases the penalty for “spectators” at animal fights from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. It also carries a punishment of up to three years in prison.

Steele’s bill passed the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters on January 10 by a 5-4 vote. The full senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.

“This legislation is intended to cut off spectatorship for animal fights in our state.” Steele said in a written statement after the bill made it out of committee. “We need to toughen our laws to deter those who will often not only watch but also pay to watch this illegal and shameful activity.

“Animal fighting is not a victimless crime,” the Republican lawmaker added. “Dogs and other pets are often killed.”

The bill still has to win approval in the state’s House of Representatives and garner the governor’s signature before it becomes law.

Animal rights advocates hail the measure and are cautiously optimistic it will be approved.

“We absolutely support this measure,” said Anne Sterling, Indiana’s state director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “We’ve been working on this issue for a long time. This is the fifth time this bill has been introduced in our state, and this is the first time it’s gotten this far.”

Animal fighting is a serious issue in Indiana, Sterling said. In the past two years, Indiana HSUS officials have assisted in raids that shut down two dogfighting and one cockfighting contests. “We helped recover more than 400 animals, including 190 cockfighting birds” Sterling said.

Last July, HSUS officials assisted with a dogfighting raid in Gary, Indiana, that led to four arrests and the seizure of 20 dogs.

“This (proposed) bill is something that’s really important to the folks who are trying to stop animal fighting in our state,” said Sterling, who has a Pit Bull that was rescued during a 2009 dogfighting raid.

According to the HSUS, 25 other states have similar laws that make it a felony to be a spectator at a dogfighting contest. In other states, it’s a misdemeanor to attend those “barbaric” brawls.

Why target the spectators at these fights?

They’re the ones who gamble on this bloody sport, Sterling said. “These fights make money for organizers; that’s why they continue. There are also a lot of people attending these fights who are waiting to go on next.”

The HSUS said dogfighting is a class D felony in every state. The animal rights group also ranked the dogfighting laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

New Jersey has the toughest dogfighting laws, the HSUS said. Montana has the weakest. It’s still legal to be a spectator at a dogfighting contest in Montana, the HSUS said.

More information about Indiana’s proposed animal fighting legislation is available on the state’s General Assembly web site:  http://www.in.gov/apps/lsa/session/billwatch/billinfo?year=2012&session=1&request=getBill&docno=0011&doctype=SB

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Lisa McCormick is an award-winning investigative reporter whose stories have appeared in Dogs for Kids magazine, The Kansas City Star, and the national consumer news website, ConsumerAffairs.com; she has written 12 nonfiction children's books.
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