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NJ: Christie signs bill setting new penalties for dog fighting

Vicki

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Christie signs bill setting new penalties for dog fighting
August 10, 2015, 2:39 PM Last updated: Monday, August 10, 2015, 6:54 PM
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI and JI

Governor Christie on Monday signed a tough new law cracking down on dog fighting, and it immediately won praise from the chief animal control officer in Paterson, a city where dog-fighting rings have been a problem for years.

Christie’s signing also adding dog-fighting activities to the state’s anti-racketeering statute, making it a second-degree crime to lead a dog-fighting ring, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“This is a great idea,†said John DeCando, Paterson’s chief animal control officer, who has often had to rescue maimed and bloodied dogs from a life of fighting for the enrichment of owners and gamblers. “Maybe it will get people to have second thoughts before they participate in dog fighting. I’m for this new law, 150 percent.â€

Under the new law, even people who participate in dog-fighting events can draw up to three to five years in prison upon conviction — possibly more, given that the law adds participating in dog fights to the list of anti-racketeering law offenses. And those convicted of leading a dog-fighting ring could face up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.

In addition, those convicted under the new law may be required to pay for housing and veterinary care for animals harmed and may also forfeit any property used for dog fighting. The law also gives judges power to ban anyone involved in dog fighting from owning animals in the future.

“The signing of this law sends a strong message that these inhumane, tragic crimes will not be tolerated in the state of New Jersey,†state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Union and a bill sponsor, said in a statement.

“The ruthless criminals who mercilessly force innocent animals to become prize-fighting killers must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,†Kean added. “By upgrading penalties for dog fighting, we are saving the lives of countless animals and rescuing families from the hidden dangers of living in a community exposed to violent crime.â€

The bill had been stalled in the Legislature for more than a year, but it became more urgent for lawmakers following arrests in Paterson and Elizabeth. Authorities found dogs bloodied from fights, undernourished and wounded. But they had uncovered dog-fighting networks well before that, many of them in Paterson.

Last May, Michael Coleman, 34, of Paterson was arrested on animal cruelty charges after authorities raided a building at 198 E. 16th St. and rescued three dogs while a dog fight was underway.

One of the dogs was so badly wounded that it was sent out for immediate veterinary care while efforts started to find a family to adopt him, DeCando said. The other two dogs were brought to the city’s chelter on Ryle Road, but 12 days later someone broke into the shelter, cut open the pens where the dogs were kept, and stole them.

The stolen dogs have never been recovered, DeCando said Monday. The rescue and subsequent theft was a carbon copy of a case in 2007, when three pit bulls that had been rescued from a dog fight also were stolen from the shelter. Those dogs were never recovered either, DeCando said.

Coleman’s case will soon come up for trial, the animal control officer said, and if convicted of animal cruelty he could be fined as much as $1,000 and face up to six months in jail.

The new law takes effect immediately.

“It’s too bad the law we have now was not in effect then,†DeCando said, “because now we finally have a law that has some teeth in it.â€

Christie signs bill setting new penalties for dog fighting - News - NorthJersey.com