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KY: Bill against dog fighting awaits Bevin’s signature


March 26. 2016

A long and hard fought battle against dog fighting in Kentucky is ending in victory for some because HB 428, which makes dog fighting, and all involved with it a felony in Kentucky, has been passed by the Senate and sent to Governor Matt Bevin for a signature. Kentucky has been the only state in the Union that has not had an enforceable bill against dog fighting.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is unhappy with the bill because they don’t believe it covers all animals, although there is language in KRS 525.130 that includes four-legged animals as a misdemeanor and further language in KRS 525.125 that says animal cruelty is a class D felony. Their protests are aimed at those who use dogs to hunt wild boars and bears. Other groups, such as UNITED Against Dog Fighting (UADF), are fighting for HB 428 because the existing law, KRS 525 is weak in places, and hard to enforce. (UADF) co-founder Janet Rowland said they wanted a definite law against dog fighting set in place.

HB 428, amends KRS 525.125, an existing law, and makes any person who knowingly owns, possesses, keeps, breeds, trains, sells or otherwise transfers a dog, for the purpose of that dog, or its offspring, (to be) used to fight for pleasure or profit, guilty of cruelty in the first degree, a Class D felony. It also provides that activities of animals used to guard livestock ìshall not constitute crueltyî to the animals in the first degree.

The original law, KRS 525.125 outlawed dog fighting, but required an officer of the law to witness the fight, making it hard to prosecute.

There are four other bills having to do with animal cruelty also pending.

Representative Greg Stumbo (D-Floyd) recently asserted in an article in Kentucky.com, that our lack of an enforceable law also fuels the dog fighting industry in other states. That Kentucky’s present law is so weak, makes it doubly attractive as a good spot between states to stage matches and exchange dogs, among other things.

The blood sport of dog fighting has a very dark and pervasively perverse aspect to it. Its underground nature makes it extremely hard to track and make arrests. Information regarding those who fight, sell, breed dogs or are otherwise involved in the activity, is scant and heavily guarded, as well as are locations and dates of upcoming matches. It’s an activity that is also rife with other illegal transactions, such as the illegal sale of drugs and firearms, according to a law paper published by Hanna Gibson, (Detailed Discussion of Dog Fighting, Michigan State University College of Law, 2005.)

According to Gibson, ìthe idea that dog fighting is simply an animal welfare issue is clearly erroneous. She feels that, until recently, few law enforcement officials or government agencies understood the scope or gravity of this blood sport. As they have become more educated about its connection with criminal activity, many have implemented well designed, sophisticated task forces. The magnitude of criminal activity, she continued, concurrently taking place at the average dogfight is of such a scope as to warrant the involvement of a wide range of agencies, including local, regional, and federal law enforcement agencies and their specialized divisions such as organized crime units, SWAT teams, and vice squads, as well as animal control agencies and child protective services.

A Chicago Police Special Operations Unit reported 59% of the participants of dog fights are known gang members, 70% have previous felonies, 65% battery type crimes, and 70% narcotics. “Where there are fighting dogs, there are drugs,” they reported. On January 12, 2016, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reported that, “Starting this month, the FBI will track crimes against animals as ‘Group A Offenses,’ akin to major felonies like arson, homicide and kidnapping,” and will send information to a national database.

Desensitizing our children

Many are deeply disturbed about the effect dog fighting is having on children, whose parents often bring them to the fights to be desensitized to the violence and made part of the culture. This is happening in both rural and urban settings. According to Gibson, “from a very early age, children are routinely exposed to the unfathomable violence that is inherent within the blood sport. Even seasoned law enforcement agents are consistently appalled by the atrocities that they encounter at dog fights, yet the children that grow up exposed to it are conditioned to believe that the violence is normal; they are systematically desensitized to the suffering, and ultimately become criminalized.”

Randall Lockwood is the A.S.P.C.A.ís Senior Vice President for Forensic Sciences and Anti-cruelty Projects. In a New York Times interview in 2010, he explained that children are naturally empathetic to animals, but in watching dog fighting and other abuse, they are often “driven to suppress their own feelings of kindness and tenderness toward a pet, because they can’t bear the pain caused by their own empathy for the abused animal.” Often the children will kill the pet to try to exert some control over what they see as inevitable for the pet’s fate. “Those caught in such a vicious abuse-reactive cycle,” Lockwood explained, “will not only continue to expose the animals they love to suffering merely to prove that they themselves can no longer be hurt, but they are also given to testing the boundaries of their own desensitization through various acts of self-mutilation. In short, such children can only achieve a sense of safety and empowerment by inflicting pain and suffering on themselves and others.”

Other insidious activities involved in dog fighting include the acquisition of “bait” animals used to train the fighting dogs. There are constant reports of animals gone missing from peoples’ yards, especially in counties that have no leash law. Cats, dogs, rabbits, or any other animal can be subject to the horrific punishment of being tied to a stake in a pit and being attacked and mauled to death by a dog trained to fight. Often the trainers will suspend the animals and let the dogs lunge at them until they are able to grab them and rip them apart. This is to help develop the dog’s muscles in their legs and jaws. Animal groups are constantly advising people to keep an eye on their animals when they are outside. Sometimes that’s not enough. There was an incident recently in Lexington, where someone actually broke into a house and stole the dog.

Another way to acquire bait animals is to have someone in the group scan Craigslist and local classified ads for animals listed as free to a good home.The person who goes to get the animal is personable and presentable and assures the person giving the animal away, that the animal will be well taken care of. For this reason most of the animal rescue groups in Kentucky caution people not to post their animals for free on these sites. If one can’t keep an animal, it’s always better to try to find a no-kill shelter or to contact one of the rescue groups in the area.

For a listing by city of rescues in Kentucky, check here: http://www.tailsinc.com/resources/louisville-animal-shelters-rescue-groups/

Dog thieves also prowl around in vans and other such vehicles, looking for bait and game dog possibilities. Sometimes they enlist the help of children to make the quick grab and get away. The children may be told to leave a gate open, so the owner doesn’t think it’s a theft. Posts in social media have started popping up, warning when unrecognized vans have been seen cruising areas in increasing number.

Dog fighting, traditionally rural, it is a blood sport that has recently been making a headway in urban areas for gambling, in conjunction with sports, guns and drugs. There are reports of some urban gang members using dogs as weapons by cutting out their vocal chords and siccing them on unsuspecting police, firefighters or rival gang members. The dogs are put through brutal conditioning exercises, and kept in bad circumstances. Doubly sad is that the dogs may actually love and feel loyalty to their owners. For these dogs, after they’ve fought and been beaten, or given up, they may crawl back to their master for comfort only to be shot in the head. Others are brought back home to be punished for their lack of game. The game of a dog reflects mightily back on his or her owner’s reputation and is all important in the culture.

In the process of writing this report, I ran across some who offered to talk about their experiences in the rehabilitation of both fighting and bait dogs, but due to the possibility that they might be made a target, I declined their offers.

Suffice it to say, the animals are injured and traumatized to an extent that it takes very special people to help them, and some remain traumatized to a degree. One notable exception is Frodo, who has become the poster child for The Arrow Fund, a Kentuckiana-based 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that provides medical treatment to animals who have been victims of extreme torture, abuse or neglect. Frodo is a pit bull who was found July 2, 2012, chained to a fence with his muzzle duct taped shut. He also had a severely broken leg. His muzzle was literally ripped off. After extensive surgery, which included amputating the leg, and lots of care, Frodo has survived and blossomed to serve as an ambassador in Frankfort during animal legislation gatherings.

Other anti-cruelty to animals bills

HB 428, important as it is, is not the only bill regarding animal safety that is up for consideration this session. Besides this anti-cruelty law are four others:

HB 269 allows for a veterinarian to report animal abuse of their patients. This law is necessary because Kentucky is the only state in the Union that does not have such a law, thus an animal can be brought in to a vet obviously abused and in horrible condition, and the vet is bound by confidentiality laws not to report the abuse to authorities. It passed the House 3/22 and was sent to the Senate.

Three other bills have had virtually no action taken on them since mid-February. They are:

HB 11 provides for harsher penalties on the assault of service animals. This bill actually changes an existing bill which has degrees of abuse delineated. The first degree is a felony and second is a misdemeanor. They’re eliminating the second degree to make a person guilty of assault on an animal when they intentionally, and without legal justification, kill or cause physical injury to a service animal — a felony.

This bill has added significance because the definition of service animals includes police dogs, such as bomb and narcotic detection dogs, patrol and tracking dogs, search and rescue dogs, accelerant detection dogs, cadaver dogs, other assistance dogs, such as for disabled persons, and police horses. If the animal is on or off duty will not matter.

A request to the Fayette County Police Chief for a comment on this proposed bill (and its lack of action) went unanswered.

According to an article published in the Washington Post last year, Jim Watson, the direction of the North American Police Work Dog Association, guessed there were around 50,000 dogs in 2010, who were deployed to various domestic law enforcement agencies. Ironically an increasing cause of death to these dogs is coming from heat exhaustion, due to being confined in a hot vehicle (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news...re-police-dogs-are-dying-in-the-line-of-duty/).

This is ironic because another bill that is up for consideration this session in Kentucky is SB 53, which allows a person to break a window out of a car to save a dog or cat in distress, without legal consequences. SB 16, a bill similar in scope, but covering children exclusively, is going through the session easily. It is being heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee currently, while there has been no action on SB 53 since February.

The final bill is SB 116 and makes it illegal to ban certain dog breeds in Kentucky. That one has also been on hold since February.

Kentucky is such a special place, home to so many wonderful things. But we are blighted by the presence of these insidious acts of cruelty to animals, children and spouses, all-related. We are the worst in the nation when it comes to animal cruelty–literally the bottom of the barrel.

Several animal protection groups are hoping to end that historical embarrassment by trying to get these five significant anti-cruelty bills passed through the legislature this session. April 12 is the last day of the session, so the pressure is on.

If you would like to help, please consider calling the bill hot line 800-372-7181 and lending your support to these above bills. There are wonderful people who answer this line and will take down your information in an agreeable manner while answering whatever questions you may have, to the best of their ability.

The number above can be used to call in support for any bill currently in session. In these, and all other political considerations, your representatives and their contact information for your specific county are here: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/whoswho/county.htm