Yesterday, in honor of National Animal Advocacy Day, Congress put out the welcome mat for Bam Bam, a special dog whom the ASPCA rescued as a puppy from a dog fighting yard in Alabama. The Congressional Animal Protection Caucus (CAPC) had invited Bam Bam to the Capitol as an ambassador for dogs rescued from animal fighting operations. U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Co-Chairs of the CAPC, were on hand to welcome the ASPCA and congressional staff.
Bam Bam joined a panel of experts to educate congressional staff about the fiscal and welfare challenges of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases. The ASPCA regularly works side-by-side with federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to rescue animals from animal fighting rings, as well as expend vast resources caring for these animals afterward.
Federal criminal cases take many months or even years to progress. While they slowly advance, rescued animals must be housed, fed, and provided with veterinary and behavioral care. They often can’t be re-homed until the cases conclude, which means a dog may spend over a year waiting for his or her fate to be determined by a court.
Once the ASPCA and law enforcement authorities come to the rescue, these animals should be able to start new, happy lives; but federal seizure laws weren’t written with animals in mind. Animals can’t be warehoused like cars, drugs or commonplace evidence—and while living in limbo in this way, seized animals often deteriorate psychologically and behaviorally. Meanwhile, animal-protection agencies rack up astronomical costs to safely shelter these animals on behalf of federal law enforcement.
Fortunately, on National Animal Advocacy Day, we’re grateful for the great animal allies we have in Congress and in the Department of Justice (DOJ) working to solve this problem through legislation and regulatory changes. Reform is needed to have the alleged abusers, rather than taxpayers or groups like the ASPCA, pay for the costs of caring for their seized animals or relinquish custody of the animals, allowing them to be re-homed much faster.
We’re also indebted to our amazing citizen advocates, who sent more than 13,000 emails to the Department of Justice over the past month thanking them for prosecuting animal fighters and urging them to get even tougher this year.
There’s no question dog fighting is a deplorable crime. Few things are more cruel, which is why the barbaric activity is a felony in every state. Nonetheless, organized dog fights continue, attracting large and surprisingly diverse crowds of participants and spectators in locations that range from rural towns to dense cities across the country.
By our estimate, there are tens of thousands of dog fighters in the U.S., forcing hundreds of thousands of dogs to train, fight, and suffer every year.
These are not fringe or rare events; dog fighting is a cruelty-for-profit industry. In the last five years alone, we’ve assisted law enforcement on over a hundred dog fighting cases, come to the rescue of more than 2,100 dogs, and helped prosecutors file 463 criminal charges related to dog fighting. Less than three years ago, we assisted in the raid of the second-largest dog fighting operation in U.S. history, involving over 350 dogs.
As long as this blood “sport” continues, we must do more to fight it. Animal fighting laws can be strengthened to ensure penalties match the severity of crimes committed. Police officers can be better trained to identify and investigate dog fighting cases. And law enforcement can be given adequate resources to care for canine victims so authorities are not deterred from raiding these sites.
By changing our local and national priorities, we can ensure that dog fighting is seen, treated, and punished as not just a heartless offense, but as one of the most despicable crimes in our society.
Achieving that goal requires the enthusiastic participation of law enforcement, as we have here in New York with our NYPD partnership. But to explore how police officers across the country view their animal welfare roles and challenges to them, we conducted a national study of over 500 law enforcement officers.
The results revealed that while most officers consider dog fighting a “severe” crime, 40 percent said limited resources—including money, time and manpower—pose a major obstacle when it comes to pursuing dog fighting cases. And nearly half (49 percent) reported that they need more training on how to investigate animal cruelty.
When asked how much specific training they’d already received, 52 percent of the officers said none whatsoever. And 75 percent reported that they had not received training or guidance on dog fighting cases in the last year.
These results show that many police officers are ready and willing to take on dog fighters, but aren't equipped with all they need to work most effectively.
More and more, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are asking for the ASPCA’s assistance with these cases and for training on how to best investigate dog fighting. We’re committed to providing our expertise and resources to help law enforcement around the country combat this horrific crime.
But the public can also make a big difference. While every city has its own approach and barriers to fighting animal cruelty, what they have in common are communities of outraged people, eager to do whatever they can to end dog fighting for good.
If you hear or see anything that makes you suspect animal fighting or the training of animals to fight, notify the police immediately. Public tips are often the breakthrough authorities need to stop not only animal abuse, but other crimes often found at the scene, including drug dealing and illegal firearm sales.
Even if you’ve never heard about a dog fight, that doesn’t mean they’re not happening nearby. We also can’t relax simply because animal fighting is illegal. I’ve witnessed enough horrific crime scenes to know that animal fights can take place anywhere, and that they represent the absolute worst of human nature.
When we put more pressure on our local and federal government, offer more training and resources to our police forces, and ultimately give the issue of animal fighting the seriousness it deserves, many more lives will be saved from suffering.
Conducting a dog fight is a felony in all 50 states, but to truly crack down on this despicable blood sport, states need to pass laws giving law enforcement more tools to catch these criminals and deter this cruel activity. In recent months we’ve seen great legislative opportunities squandered, so we must redouble our efforts to raise awareness.
It is illegal in 49 states to own dogs for the purpose of fighting. Sadly, this past March the Kentucky Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have brought the Bluegrass State in line with the rest of the country, perpetuating its dishonorable distinction as a haven for dog fighters.
Similarly, 49 states have made it illegal to be a spectator at a dog fight, but earlier this week, April 7, Montana legislators voted down legislation that would have made it a crime to be a spectator at an animal fight. If you live in Montana, see how your state senator voted, and in honor of National Dog Fighting Awareness Day, please politely let him/her know how you feel about their vote (a Yes was a vote in support of this bill to strengthen penalties for dog fighting).
No matter where you live, it is critically important to raise awareness about dog fighting—as heinous an activity as it is, lawmakers around the country still need to receive the message. Please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade and we’ll let you know when anti-fighting bills are under consideration in your state.
Wednesday, April 8, marks the ASPCA’s second annual National Dog Fighting Awareness Day (NDFAD), and this year we are working harder than ever to spread awareness about this brutal form of animal cruelty. Read on to see how ASPCA staffers and supporters are lending their voice to this important cause, and find out how you can get involved, too!
At the ASPCA offices in New York City, staff members vowed to “Get Tough” on dog fighting by posing for photos with pit bulls and sharing them on social media using the hashtag #GetTough.
Luckily, you don’t have to be an ASPCA staffer or a professional wrestler to take part in National Dog Fighting Awareness Day. Here are three ways you can support NDFAD:
Get Tough. To join our #GetTough movement, simply take a selfie with one of our free, downloadable #GetTough posters and sharables, then post it to social media using the hashtag #GetTough.
Take Action. Sign our petition to tell the Department of Justice (DoJ) that you want to see more federal dog fighting prosecutions.
Donate. Support our work to defeat dog fighting by making a gift to the ASPCA today.
Animals around the country are counting on your compassion, your outrage and your willingness to stop their suffering. By taking one (or more!) of the actions listed above, you’ll be joining a growing group of animal-lovers who are dedicated to putting an end to this nightmare. Thank you for your voice!
"Growing up, my family and I lived in very poor, very dangerous areas and dog fighting was prevalent,” AJ says. “My dad, who has the biggest heart in the world, would open our home to pit bulls that had been rescued from fighting. We fostered four, and kept them until we could find new homes for them."
The fifth dog AJ’s family rescued was a puppy who was being bred for fighting. "We ended up keeping him, named him Mugsy, and he was a part of our family for an amazing 16 years,” she says. Mugsy’s sweet nature inspired AJ’s lifelong commitment to rescue dogs as well as her love of pit bulls. “I've never been more in love with a dog, he was so sweet and kind, loved small dogs, and cuddled like he was Chihuahua."
Alongside passionate animal supporters like AJ, we’re working to eradicate dog fighting by advocating for stronger laws and harsher sentencing for those who fight dogs and by assisting with raids and rescues. But we can’t do it alone.