ASPCA Commends U.S. Reps. Chu, Katko for Introducing Federal Bill to Protect Victims of Animal Fighting

The HEART Act will help rescue animal fighting victims from extended and harmful legal limbo
March 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC– The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) commends federal lawmakers for reintroducing legislation to significantly improve the process of caring for animal victims seized in federal animal fighting cases. The Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), will prevent unnecessary and harmful delays in the rehabilitation of these animals. It will also require defendants to reimburse the costs of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases following a forfeiture proceeding.

Currently, when animals fall victim to cruelty and are seized in federal dogfighting busts, they often endure months or even years-long stays in shelters as the related cases make their way through the federal court system. While these cases are pending, animal welfare agencies house, feed, and provide critical veterinary and behavioral care for the seized animals. Even when high-quality care is provided, this extended period of legal limbo can cause extreme stress and behavioral problems, and can prevent them from being adopted into new homes.

The astronomical cost of sheltering seized animals for extended periods of time depletes the limited financial resources of animal protection agencies and local shelters, making it difficult or impossible for them to participate in rescue operations. Law enforcement is far less likely to investigate and intervene in animal fighting operations when they are unsure if animal protection agencies can bear the cost and burden of caring for seized animals. The HEART Act ensures that those claiming ownership of seized animals will continue to bear the financial responsibility for their care, without impacting due process rights.

“Animal fighting is a horrific ‘blood-sport’ in which innocent victims are forced to train, fight and suffer for the debased entertainment and profit of spectators,” said Richard Patch, vice president of federal affairs for the ASPCA. “Animals rescued in federal animal fighting cases have suffered enough at the hands of their abusers, and the red tape of the forfeiture system should not be a barrier to their eventual adoption. The ASPCA is grateful to Representatives Chu and Katko for their continued leadership in championing the HEART Act to streamline the process to give these victims of cruelty the chance they deserve to find safe and loving homes.”

“I’m proud to be reintroducing the HEART Act with Rep. John Katko to ensure that victims of animal fighting are able to receive the care and rehabilitation that they deserve,” said Rep. Chu. “When terrible dog fighting rings are broken up, trials and legal proceedings can take months or years, during which rescued dogs must be cared for by the government. Often, this means they are held in overburdened animal shelters for long periods of time with no chance of adoption until their case is decided. By shortening the time that these animals must be held as evidence, this bill will provide them with a chance at a new life while providing accountability and ensuring that the costs must be paid by those responsible for this cruelty in the first place.”

“Animals saved from fighting rings deserve to be matched with loving, caring homes. Furthermore, we must hold criminals legally and financially responsible for the abuse of these animals,” said Rep. Katko. “The HEART Act accomplishes both initiatives. Under this legislation, the disposition process is improved, animals spend less time in shelters, and individuals responsible for harming animals are required to pay the costs of the animals’ care. Animal abuse and neglect has no place in our society. I am proud to once again sponsor this legislation and will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to address this issue.”

In 2013, the ASPCA participated in the second-largest dogfighting case in U.S. history, a case that spanned four states and resulted in 10 arrests. Some of the 367 dogs rescued spent more than a year in temporary shelters until the criminal case was adjudicated. The ASPCA spent more than $3 million to care for the dogs, at an average cost of $39 per dog, per day. This is not uncommon, but fortunately, the HEART Act will help address these problems to allow courts to consider the animals’ welfare when considering further delays.

Although dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it continues to occur in every part of the country and in every type of community. In the past decade, the ASPCA has assisted with approximately 200 dogfighting cases in at least 24 states, and has impacted through rescue, consultations and investigations nearly 5,000 victims of dogfighting.

For more information on the ASPCA’s efforts to tackle dogfighting or to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit